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Commiphora caudata
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Burseraceae
Genus: Commiphora
Jacq. (1797)

ca. 190. See text.

  • Balessam Bruce (1790)
  • Balsamea Gled. (1782)
  • Balsamodendrum Kunth (1824)
  • Balsamophloeos O.Berg (1862)
  • Balsamus Stackh. (1814)
  • Bdellion Baill. ex Laness. (1886), not validly publ.
  • Hemprichia Ehrenb. (1829)
  • Heudelotia A.Rich. (1831)
  • Hitzera Klotzsch (1861)
  • Neomangenotia J.-F.Leroy (1976)
  • Niotoutt Adans. (1759)
  • Protionopsis Blume (1850)
  • Spondiopsis Engl. (1895)
Commiphora saxicola - MHNT

The genus of the myrrhs, Commiphora, is the most species-rich genus of flowering plants in the frankincense and myrrh family, Burseraceae. The genus contains approximately 190 species of shrubs and trees, which are distributed throughout the (sub-) tropical regions of Africa, the western Indian Ocean islands, the Arabian Peninsula, India, and South America.[2][3][1] The genus is drought-tolerant and common throughout the xerophytic scrub, seasonally dry tropical forests, and woodlands of these regions.

The common name myrrh refers to several species of the genus, from which aromatic resins are derived for various fragrance and medicinal uses by humans.


Leaves in Commiphora are pinnately compound (or very rarely unifoliolate). Many species are armed with spines. Bark is often exfoliating, peeling in thin sheets to reveal colorful, sometimes photosynthetic, bark below. Stems are frequently succulent, especially in species native to drier environments. Flowers are typically dioecious (subdioecious) and fruits are drupes, usually with a 2-locular ovary (one is abortive).[4] In response to wounding, the stems of many species will exude aromatic resins.

Ecology and biogeography[edit]

Commiphora can serve as a model genus for understanding plant evolution in the drier regions of the Old World tropics, particularly in eastern continental Africa and Madagascar, where diversity in the genus is concentrated. The closely related sister genus to Commiphora, Bursera, has been used as a model genus to study patterns of evolution in the New World seasonally dry tropical forests.[5]

Use by humans[edit]

Products from many species of Commiphora have been used for various purposes, sometimes as timber, building material, and natural fencing, but more often valued for the aromatic resins produced by several members of the genus. "Myrrh", the common name for these dried resins, is fragrant and has been used both as fragrance and for medicinal purposes (e.g., Balsam of Mecca, C. gileadensis).[6] Use of myrrh resin is frequent and pronounced throughout historical texts of cultural significance, including the Bible.

Systematics and taxonomy[edit]

Recent studies using DNA sequence data have confirmed the monophyly of Commiphora;[3][7] however, this data suggests that previous classification of the genus into sections does not reflect monophyletic interspecific relationships.


181 species are accepted:[1]



  1. ^ a b c "Commiphora Jacq. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  2. ^ Daly et al. 2011. Burseraceae. Families and genera of vascular plants. 10:76–104.
  3. ^ a b Weeks, A. and Simpson, B.B. 2007. Molecular phylogenetic analysis of Commiphora (Burseraceae) yields insight on the evolution and historical biogeography of an “impossible” genus. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 42:62–79.
  4. ^ Gillett, J.B. 1991. Burseraceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Ed.), Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam. Pp. 1–95.
  5. ^ De Nova, A. et al. 2011. Insights into the historical construction of species-rich Mesoamerican seasonally dry tropical forests: the diversification of Bursera (Burseraceae, Sapindales). New Phytologist. 193(1):276–287.
  6. ^ Musselman, L.J. 2007. Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran. Timber Press, Inc. Portland, Oregon. Pp. 194–197.
  7. ^ Weeks, A., et al. 2005. The phylogenetic history and biogeography of the frankincense and myrrh family (Burseraceae) based on nuclear and chloroplast sequence data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 35:85–101.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Species in GRIN for genus". Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  9. ^ Moorcroft, Koos; Gunduza, Raphael, Traditional skills of the Bushmen - Part 1: BUSHMAN WEAPONS, archived from the original on 2011-02-27, retrieved 2009-12-05
  10. ^ a b Thulin, Mats; Claeson, Per (1991). "The Botanical Origin of Scented Myrrh (Bissabol or Habak Hadi)". Economic Botany. 45 (4): 487–494. doi:10.1007/BF02930711. ISSN 0013-0001. JSTOR 4255391. S2CID 22229398.
  11. ^ "Commiphora leptophloeos (Mart.) J.B.Gillett | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  12. ^ TRANS-MAD Development Parc National de Kirindy-Mite
  13. ^ Hoffmann, Luise (1 June 2017). "The Rock-corkwood (Commiphora saxicola)". The Namibian. Meet the trees of Namibia. p. 9.
  14. ^ "Commiphora simplicifolia in A Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Madagascar @". Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  15. ^ "". Retrieved June 6, 2014.

External links[edit]