[Ocean Oasis Field Guide] Satellite image of the Baja California peninsula and Gulf of California See Spanish version

Photo of Bursera hindsiana (Copal), Norman Roberts © 2000 SDNHM Closeup photo of Bursera hindsiana (Copal), Norman Roberts © 2000 SDNHM

Bursera hindsiana

BURSERACEAE (Torchwood Family)

The generic name, Bursera, refers to J. Burser, born in the 1500s. Other members of this genus native to Baja California are Bursera cerasifolia, B. epinnata (Copal), B. fagaroides, B. laxiflora, B. filicifolia, B. odorata (Torote Blanco), and B. microphylla (Torote Colorado). Bursera hindsiana is planted in the cactus and succulent garden across Park Boulevard from the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.


A small tree or shrub to 3.5 m (10-1/2 feet) tall. The reddish twigs and light reddish-gray trunk are smooth. The leaves are 4.5 cm (2 inches) long, simple or trifoliate, and fuzzy with scalloped margins. The flowers are 0.25 cm (1/8 inch) long, bloom from September to December, and produce an oval-shaped fruit 0.9 to1.2 centimeters (up to 1/2 inch) long.

Range and Habitat

Copal is found along washes and desert hillsides from near the head of the Gulf to the Cape Region, including Tiburón Island and coastal Sonora.

Natural History

The seeds have been used as a food source, but only in desperate times. The aromatic gum produced by the trunk is not of current commercial importance. However, a number of species within this family do produce well known commercial grade aromatic gums and balsam wood such as the genus Boswellia (frankincense) and Commiphora (myrrh).

Text by Bob Lauri
Photographs by Norman Roberts

Field Guide | Site Index | Ocean Oasis Introduction

Quail Logo © 2000 San Diego Natural History Museum