Burseraceae

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Frankincense and Myrrh Family

Protium confusum (Rose) Pittier, an understory tree in the Burseraceae. Note the finely looping veins and the petiolules swollen on both ends. Un árbol del subdosel. Note que las venas se unen cerca de las márgenes, y que los peciolulos son pulvinados en los dos extremos.


Description: Burseraceae have the strongest vegetative odor in the Sapindales, a powerful and pleasant incense scent. It is perceptible even from a small rip in the leaf. All the species here at La Selva (and indeed, almost all plants in this family) have pinnately compound leaves. The most common genus here, Protium, is easy to distinguish: each petiole has a double pulvinulus (i.e., the stalk of each leaflet is swollen at both ends). The fruits of Protium are so full of essential oils that they can actually be lit on fire!

Economic uses: The resins from Burseraceae are sometimes used to manufacture incense, and they have many uses in traditional medicine in the Neotropics.


Descripción: Las Burseraceas tienen el olor más fuerte de los Sapindales. Es un olor fuerte y agradable a incienso evidente al rasgar levemente una hoja. Todas las especies y casi toda la familia aquí en La Selva, tiene hojas pinnaticompuestas. El género más común aquí, Protium, es muy fácil de distinguir: cada peciolulo de cada foliolo es pulvinulado en los dos extremos. ¡Los frutos de Protium tienen tanto aceite que se les puede encender!

Usos económicos: Las resinas de las Burseraceas se usan para elaborar incienso, y tienen muchos usos medicinales.


Genera/species at La Selva: 3/6 (all trees/ todos árboles): Bursera (1), Protium (4), Tetragastis (1).


FIELD MARKS – alternate, imparipinnate leaves with a swollen rachis between leaflet pairs, turpentine odor, flammable.


Bursera simaruba – red peeling bark over greenish photosynthetic bark, commonly used as a living fence, called “tourist tree” due to peeling red skin.


Alternate leaves of Bursera simaruba.
Imparipinnate leaf of Bursera simaruba with swollen rachis where pairs of leaflets meet
Red bark peeling to reveal green photosynthetic bark of Bursera simaruba.
The tourist tree and a tourist (Eric Fromer).
Living fence posts constructed of Bursera simaruba.


Protium swollen rachis at leaflets, bitumid petiolules (swollen pulvinus at both ends, shaped like a femur bone), strong turpentine odor, fruits reportedly flammable.


Imparipinnate leaf of Protium panamense.
Close-up showing swollen rachis at leaflets and bitumid (femur-like) petiolules.
Protium fruits.
Parapinnate leaf of Protium.
Protium fruits are often reddish in color and have the asymmetrical shape of a mammalian heart.
Oxidation of sap oozing from a wound to the trunk of Protium.
Protium panamense can be distinguished by its odd buttresses and stilt roots with smooth bark.
Protium pittieri can be distinguished by its orange-pink fruits, imparipinnate leaves, swollen petiolules, and rusty (ferruginous) pubescence on the rachis and petiolules. The fragrant fruits are the largest of any of the Protium species.


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