Red Elephant Tree, Copalquin
Burseraceae, Torchwood Family
Shrub, small tree; sarcocaulescent
Baja California and coastal Sonora, Mexico
Rocky hillsides, slopes, and washes
Living Desert Location:
Vizcaino Garden, Foothills of Sonora, Eagle Canyon
It’s wood, used by Seri Indians, is hard and does not crack as it dries, making it easy to carve.
Bursera hindsiana is a shrub or small tree that grows 15 to 18 feet tall. Considered to be sarcocaulescent, or fleshy-stemmed, it forms a thick trunk for water storage. Smooth gray bark covers the trunk and lower branches, and smaller branches have a red cast. Its leaves are variable in shape and can be single or pinnate with three leaflets, sometimes five. The leaf margin, or edge, has rounded teeth, and both surfaces are hairy. It produces very small flowers which give rise to small green and red fruits that are an important food source for birds.
It is widespread in Baja California from the top of the gulf to the cape region, but in Sonora it is found only near the coast. It also occurs on most islands in the gulf. It generally grows where rainfall comes during both the summer and winter months, but also where rain mostly comes in summer. It is stimulated by summer moisture; however, it is drought deciduous and can shed its leaves during dry periods.
Two other species, Bursera cerasifolia and Bursera epinnata, found in Baja California, greatly resemble Bursera hindsiana and can be difficult to distinguish.