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Elephant Tree

Bursera microphylla

Elephant tree

The Elephant Tree is the rare, northernmost species of small, aromatic, tropical family which is extremely susceptible to cold. Their short, very stout, tapered trunks and branches are reminiscent of elephants legs and trunks, hence their name. They have an open, but sparse crown, and grow to a height of only 10 feet.

The Elephant Tree's scientific name means "small-leafed." Dull, light-green, oblong leaves about an inch long, with a winged axis, are composed of tiny leaflets. The twigs are reddish-brown, and the bark is thin and flaky, white on the outside with lower layers green, then red.

Range

Sonoran Desert of southwestern Arizona, extreme southern California and northwestern Mexico to 2,500 feet elevation

elephant tree

Habitat

Rocky dry slopes of desert mountains

Flowers

Small, 5-petaled, creamy-white flowers, less than 1/4-inch wide, appear in the early summer.

Fruit

An aromatic, 1/4-inch-long red fruit appears in autumn. It has a curving, elliptic stalk and contains one nutlet.

Description

The Elephant Tree is the rare, northernmost species of small, aromatic, tropical family which is extremely susceptible to cold. Their short, very stout, tapered trunks and branches are reminiscent of elephants legs and trunks, hence their name. They have an open, but sparse crown, and grow to a height of only 10 feet.

The Elephant Tree's scientific name means "small-leafed." Dull, light-green, oblong leaves about an inch long, with a winged axis, are composed of tiny leaflets. The twigs are reddish-brown, and the bark is thin and flaky, white on the outside with lower layers green, then red.

Elephant Trees are so rare that for many years, skeptics refused to acknowledge their existence. It wasn't until 1937 that this species was confirmed growing in the Anza-Borrego Desert Park region. In the 1980s, specimens were also discovered in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains, 20 miles to the north. Native Americans considered medicines prepared from the Elephant Tree very valuable and powerful.

elephant tree

-- A.R Royo


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Animals - Wildlife | Wildflowers-Plants


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