Elephant Trees, Copales, and Cuajiotes
A Natural History of Bursera
In the United States, Bursera is represented by the short, contorted, and aromatic elephant tree of the hot Sonoran Desert and the stately and colorful gumbo limbo of southern Florida, while in the torrid lowlands of southern Mexico, the engines of evolution have produced forests dominated by dozens of species of Bursera, each with a peculiar ecological slot. This evolutionary tableau presents a complicated sex life that puzzles scientists. Recent research also reveals a gripping narrative of an epic struggle between trees and the insects that would subsist on their leaves: the insects seeking to exploit a food resource, the trees reacting with ever-changing, dramatic counter strategies. In addition to the fascinating and intricate workings of the genus’s ecological adaptations, burseras play a formative role in the lives of indigenous populations. Native peoples relish the plants’ aromatic resin, workable wood, and often colorful bark as a source for endless human applications.
Written in an engaging style, enhanced with two hundred color photographs, and complete with a compendium of species descriptions, this book will be an essential reference on a significant North American plant.
“This fascinating book summarizes the natural history of the genus Bursera, a group of trees of immense ethnobotanical importance in the drylands of Mesoamerica and Aridoamerica but surprisingly overlooked in the published literature. Together with its sister species in Africa and the Old World—frankincense and myrrh—there is no major religion in the world that does not use resins from plants in this family to enhance spiritual contemplation, prayer, and healing. And yet very few people seem to know much about these fascinating plants that have been so critically important in the evolution of traditional lores in the deserts and drylands of North America.”—Exequiel Ezcurra, co-author of The Basin of Mexico: Critical Environmental Issues and Sustainability