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CLOSE THIS BOOKNitrogen Fixing Trees Highlights (Winrock, 1990-1997, 100 p.)
VIEW THE DOCUMENT(introduction...)
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia koa - Hawaii's most valued native tree
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia leucophloea - shade and fodder for livestock in arid environments
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAlnus acuminata: valuable timber tree for tropical highlands
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAlbizia saman: pasture improvement, shade, timber and more
VIEW THE DOCUMENTCasuarina junghuhniana: a highly adaptable tropical casuarina
VIEW THE DOCUMENTEnterolobium cyclocarpum: the ear pod tree for fasture, fodder and wood
VIEW THE DOCUMENTErythrina variegata: more than a pretty tree
VIEW THE DOCUMENTInga edulis: a tree for acid soils in the humid tropics
VIEW THE DOCUMENTPithecellobium dulce - sweet and thorny
VIEW THE DOCUMENTPterocarpus indicus - the majestic n-fixing tree
VIEW THE DOCUMENTRobinia pseudoacacia: temperate legume tree with worldwide potential
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia nilotica - pioneer for dry lands
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia saligna - for dryland fodder and soil stabilization
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia senegal: gum tree with promise for agroforestry
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia seyal - multipurpose tree of the Sahara desert
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia tortilis: fodder tree for desert sands
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAlnus nepalensis: a multipurpose tree for the tropical highlands
VIEW THE DOCUMENTCasuarina equisetifolia: an old-timer with a new future
VIEW THE DOCUMENTCasuarina glauca: a hardy tree with many attributes
VIEW THE DOCUMENTChamaecytisus palmensis: hardy, productive fodder shrub
VIEW THE DOCUMENTDalbergia latifolia: the high-valued Indian rosewood
VIEW THE DOCUMENTDalbergia melanoxylon: valuable wood from a neglected tree
VIEW THE DOCUMENTErythrina edulis: multipurpose tree for the tropical highlands
VIEW THE DOCUMENTErythrina sandwicensis - unique Hawaiian NFT
VIEW THE DOCUMENTHippopha rhamnoides: an NFT valued for centuries
VIEW THE DOCUMENTLeucaena diversifolia - fast growing highland NFT species
VIEW THE DOCUMENTLeucaena: an important multipurpose tree
VIEW THE DOCUMENTOlneya tesota - a potential food crop for hot arid zones
VIEW THE DOCUMENTHoney mesquite: a multipurpose tree for arid lands
VIEW THE DOCUMENTPongamia pinnata - a nitrogen fixing tree for oilseed
VIEW THE DOCUMENTGuazuma ulmifolia: widely adapted tree for fodder and moreli
VIEW THE DOCUMENTFaidherbia albida - inverted phenology supports dryzone agroforestry
VIEW THE DOCUMENTGleditsia triacanthos - honeylocust, widely adapted temperate zone fodder tree
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAndira inermis: more than a beautiful ornamental tree
VIEW THE DOCUMENTErythrina poeppigiana: shade tree gains new perspectives
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAlbizia procera - white siris for reforestation and agroforestry
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAlbizia odoratissima - tea shade tree
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAdenanthera pavonina: an underutlized tree of the humid tropics
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia mangium: an important multipurpose tree for the tropic lowlands
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia auiculiformis - a multipurpose tropical wattle
VIEW THE DOCUMENTPentaclethra microphylla: a multipurpose tree from Africa lwith potential for agroforestry in the tropics
VIEW THE DOCUMENTMyroxylon balsam and much more
VIEW THE DOCUMENTOugeinia dalbergioides: a multipurpose tree for sub-tropical and tropical mountain regions
VIEW THE DOCUMENTProsopis alba and prosopis chilensis: subtropical semiarid fuel and fodder trees
VIEW THE DOCUMENTSesbania sesban: widely distributed multipurpose NFT
VIEW THE DOCUMENTProsopis cineraria: a multipurpose tree for arid areas
VIEW THE DOCUMENTJuliflorae acacias: new food source for the sahel
VIEW THE DOCUMENTSesbania grandiflora: NFT for beauty, food, fodder and soil improvement
VIEW THE DOCUMENTAcacia aneura - a desert fodder tree

Myroxylon balsam and much more

Native to Central and South America, representatives of Myroxylon are used in folk as shade trees for cultivated crops, ornamentals, and for fine timber. Balsam and its essential oil are used to flavor baked goods, candy, chewing gum, gelatin, ice cream, pudding, soft drinks and syrups, and as incense in churches. Balsam oil is also used in perfume, cosmetic and soap industries. Seeds are used to flavor aguardiente, a popular alcoholic beverage in Latin America (Duke 1981). Common names include: blsamo, palo de blsam (Spanish America in general), cedro chino, nabal (Mexico), chirraca, sndalo (Costa Rica), tache, tofu (Colombia), estoraque (Peru), cabreva vermelha (Brazil), incienso, and quina (Argentina)(Chudnoff 1984).


Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms (family Legununosae, subfamily Papilionoideae) grows to 34 m in height and 1 m in diameter. The bark is generally gray and spotted with yellow rough areas. The 3-11 leaves are alternate, evergreen and oddly pinnate, 6-9 cm long and 3-4 cm wide (Duke 1981), and have scattered, translucent, glandular oil dots or lines (Allen and Allen 1981). Flowers are whitish, and the corolla contains 5 petals (Fuentes, 1993). The winged pod is 8-13 cm long and 2.5 cm broad and contains one seed at the tip (Duke 1981).

There is confusion about the number of species and varieties in the genus Myroxylon. Wiersema et al. (1990) reports two species: M. balsamum (L.) Harms native to southern Mexico, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela and; M. peruiferum L.f. native to northwest Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Duke (1981) reports one species in South America M. balsamum (L.) Harms. In Brazil Lorenzi (1992) reports M. balsamum (L.) Harms end M peruiferum L.f. as synonymous.

Wiersema et al. (1990) also reports two varieties: M. balsamum var. balsamum in Panama, Colombia and Venezuela; and M. balsamum var. pereirae (Royle) Harms from southern Mexico through Central America. Duke (1981) reports only one variety-M. balsamum var. pereirae (Royle) Harms-distributed along the Pacific Coast jungles of Central America.


Myroxylon balsamum grows in areas with annual precipitation ranging from 1350-4030 mm (average 2640 mm), annual mean temperature of 23-27°C, and soils with pH 5-8 (Duke 1981). In northwestern El Salvador it grows from 450-700 m altitude in an area known as the ''balsam zone" (Fuentes 1993).

Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae is reported to grow on poor but well-drained soils, at altitudes up to 600 m (Duke 1981).



Representatives of the genus are found in southern Mexico Central America, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae has been introduced to southern Florida, Ceylon, India and West Africa (Duke 1981).



Myroxylon balsamum var. balsamum and M. balsamum var. pereirae yield gums called tofu and Peru balsam, respectively. These gums are used mainly as a flavoring in cough syrups, soft drinks, confectioneries, ice cream and chewing gums (Duke 1981).

Trees are wounded to collect gum by three methods. 1) V-shaped cuts are made in the bark taking care not to girdle the tree and cups are placed under cuts to collect gum. 2) Trees are burned at the base. Strips of bark are pulled off, crushed and placed in hot water to soften the balsam and facilitate its flow. The cooled balsam sinks to the bottom and can be separated (Duke 1981). 3) Sections of the tree trunk are beaten with a wooden club and then vertical incisions 8 cm wide are made in the bark. A few days later the incisions are heated with fire to stimulate gum flow incisions are not burned. Rags are placed over the incisions and removed when they are saturated. Crude presses are used to extract gum from the rags (Fuentes 1993).

Gum harvesting begins on 20 to 30-year-old trees with minimum diameters of 12-15 cm (Fuentes 1993). Twentyyear-old trees yield about 3 kg of gum per year (Allen and Allen 1981). With proper management trees yield gum for 30 to 40 years. Prices per half kilogram of unrefined and refined gum in El Salvador in 1993 were approximately 17 and 24 colonel, respectively (Fuentes 1993). This is US$2.003.00 at current exchange rates.

El Salvador, a major producer of Peru balsam, exported about 48 MT annually in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Tolu balsam is produced in Colombia, the main source, Venezuela and the West Indies (Duke 1981).


Balsam gum contains about 60% cinnamein, a volatile oil extracted by steam distillation. The oil is used in highgrade perfume, cosmetic and soap industries (Duke 1981).


Balsam wood is used for flooring, furniture, interior trim, turnery and railroad ties. It is moderately difficult to work but can be finished smoothly with a high natural polish. Heartwood is reddish brown, turning deep red or purplish upon exposure, and very resistant to attack by decay fungi. Specific gravity is 0.74-.0.81. Shrinkage values from green to ovendry are very low for a wood of this density (Chudnoff 1984).

Folk medicine.

Tolu balsam is used as a feeble expectorant in cough mixtures, and as an inhalant for catarrh and bronchitis. Peru balsam is used extensively as a local protectant, rubefacient, parasiticide in certain skin diseases, antiseptic, and applied externally as an ointment, or in alcoholic solutions. It is rarely used internally as an expectorant. Alcoholic extracts of tofu and Peru balsam inhibit Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Duke 1981).


Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms is used in El Salvador as a shade tree in coffee plantations. There are no government initiatives to promote formal planting of the species-it is propagated mainly through natural regeneration (Fuentes 1993).


Seed collection.

Seeds are wind dispersed and may be collected from the tree as they begin to mature. Balsam tree' in Brazil flower from July to September and set seed in October and November. There are approximately 1,700 seer per kilogram (Lorenzi 1992).


Seed should be planted in a mixture of clay and organic matter to a depth of.5 cm, covered with fine soil and watered daily. Germination beds or container' should be partially shaded. Seeds germinate (greater than 50%) in 1530 days. Seedlings are ready for outplanting in 5 months. Seedlings grow to 2.5 m in 2 years (Lorenzi 1992).


Allen and Allen (1981) report nodulation of Myroxylon balsamum. Nodulation of M. balsamum has not been reported in Brasil (S.M. de Faria, personal communication).


Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms var. balsamum and M. balsamum (L.) Harms var. pereirae are attacked by a number of fingi: Meliola xylosmae, Myiocopron pereirae, Pecksia pereirae, Phylosticta myroxyli, Phomopsis sp. and Tabutia xylosmae (Duke 1981).


Allen, O.N. and Allen, E.K. 1981. The Leguminosae: a source book of characteristics, uses and nodulation. Madison, WI (USA): The University of Wisconsin Press, p. 453.

Chudnoff, M. 1984. Tropical timbers of the world. Agricultural handbook number 607. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, p. 113.

Duke, J. 1981. Handbook of legumes of world economic importance. New York, NY: Plenum Press, pp. 173-77.

Fuentes, R.E. 1993. El blsamo en El Salvador: una especie con potencial econmico. Revista Forestal Centroamericana. No. 6, Ao 2. Turrialba, Costa Rica: CATIE, pp. 38-41.

Lorenzi, H. 1992. rvores Brasileiras: manual de identificao e cultivo de plantas arbreas natives do Brasil. Nova Odessa, SP: Editora Plantarium, p. 220.

Wiersema, J.H., Kirkbride, J.H., Jr. and Gunn, C.R. 1990. Legume (Fabaceae) nomenclature in the USDA germplasm system. Technical Bulletin No. 1757: U.S. Department of Agriculture, pp. 371-72.

NFTA 95-04 June 1995