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Research and Conservation in Southern Sonora, Mexico

Bursera penicillata (torote copal, torote prieto)

Torote copal may attain greater heights than any other common Bursera in the Sonoran Desert region, reaching nearly 50 feet (15 m). Only the rare B. simarouba is taller. But its most distinctive feature is its potent fragrance of licorice (anise); on hot, still days a single tree perfumes the surrounding forest. It also produces a thick aromatic sap. B. penicillata has a smooth, light gray bark and, after the summer rains, is densely dressed in large compound leaves with large serrated leaflets. In fall the forest glows with the bright yellow foliage . It bears ovate fruit hooded in red or orange.


Bursera penicillata near Alamos, Sonora. Photo: S.A. Meyer

Bark of Bursera penicillata near Alamos, Sonora. Photo: Mark Dimmitt

Bursera graveolens of the Galápagos Islands is very similar to B. penicillata in growth habit and aroma. The two appear to be related and may be the same species.


Foliage of Bursera penicillata. Photo: Mark Dimmitt

Leaves and flowers of Bursera penicillata photographed against its bark. Photo: S.A. Meyer

Leaves and fruits of Bursera penicillata photographed against its bark. Some fruits are ripe; the shells have fallen off to expose the fleshy red arils. Photo: S.A. Meyer