Palo Mulato: Characteristics, Habitat, Medicinal Properties

The palo mulato ( Bursera simaruba L.) is a semi-deciduous tree of medium size, which is part of the Burseraceae family. It is a species that grows frequently in deciduous forests, from Mexico to Venezuela.

In addition to palo mulato, B. simaruba is known as a naked Indian. It is a tree that can measure between 18 and 30 meters in height, while the diameter of the trunk can average 70 cm.

Bursera simaruba. Patrice78500 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Bursera simaruba develops a wide, highly branched crown with many leaves. This tree is characterized by being aromatic and by having copper or reddish brown trunks. The stem also flakes off, exposing the greenish layer underneath.

The leaves of B. simaruba are compound and spirally arranged. The leaves have an average length of 22 cm long, and are constituted by a range of between 7 and 13 leaflets. Each leaflet in turn can have an average length of 7.5 cm and an average width of 3 cm.

Bursera simaruba can be monoecious or dioecious. The flowers are arranged in a panicle inflorescence and are slender, with short peduncles.

The palo mulato, being a native tree of America, is widely used by the rural inhabitants of this continent as a remedy for different ailments. In addition, the healing properties of different extracts of this plant have been demonstrated.

Likewise, the branches of Bursera simaruba are used as fodder for cattle. While the stem, if it is well dried, can be used as firewood. In addition, the wood of the palo mulato can be used in the manufacture of furniture.

Article index

  • one

    Characteristics

    • 1.1

      Tree

    • 1.2

      Cortex

    • 1.3

      Leaves

    • 1.4

      Inflorescence

    • 1.5

      Fruit

  • two

    Habitat and distribution

  • 3

    Taxonomy

    • 3.1

      Explanation

  • 4

    Medicinal properties

    • 4.1

      Against malaria

    • 4.2

      Against amoebic dysentery and diarrhea

    • 4.3

      Against viral infections

    • 4.4

      Against leukemia

    • 4.5

      Antioxidants

    • 4.6

      Antibiotics

  • 5

    Other uses

  • 6

    Contraindications

  • 7

    References

Characteristics

Tree

Bursera simaruba is a small or medium-sized deciduous tree that can grow up to 25 meters. On the other hand, the diameter of the stem at chest height can measure between 60 to 80 cm. The trunk is cylindrical, branched; while the crown is irregular and scattered.

Cortex

The bark of B. simaruba has a coloration ranging from copper to reddish brown, which dries and peels off, giving rise to a coppery green bark.

Bursera simaruba. Louise Wolff (darina) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Leaves

The palo mulato develops compound leaves that are arranged in a spiral and are between 18 and 45 cm long. The leaflets of the leaves are arranged opposite or alternately on the rachis.

In addition, the leaflets have an entire margin, elliptical or ovate in shape, and have a single primary vein. Each leaflet is 4 to 9 cm long and 2 to 4 cm wide. They have a bright green appearance, with a symmetrical pointed apex, while the base is asymmetrical.

Palo mulatto. Source: wikimedia commons

Inflorescence

The inflorescence is a panicle that is approximately 10-12 cm long, and has small flowers with three petals each. Bursera simaruba can be monoecious or dioecious, and can sometimes be hermaphroditic. Flowering depends on the region.

Fruit

The fruits of the palo mulato are resinous drupes that measure 1 cm on average, diamond-shaped, and dark pink in color. In turn, the ripening fruits dry and open into three parts, containing a whitish triangular seed.

Habitat and distribution

Bursera simaruba is a tree that grows wild from the southwestern United States, in the Colorado, Gila, and Alamo river basins, to much of Latin America.

In Mexico this species is very common in locations below 1700 meters above sea level, in tropical forests, in xeric scrub, and in the Pacific basin.

In addition, the palo mulato spreads throughout Central America, colonizing tropical forests. It also occupies areas of northwestern South America, in the Orinoco (Venezuela), Magdalena and Atrato (Colombia) river basin.

B. simaruba is a common plant in Latin America and can colonize semi-deciduous forests and emerging rain forests. According to the distribution, this species of tree can vary in some aspects of its shape, such as the presence of foliar pubescence, the shape and number of leaflets, and the color of the stem.

However, these variations may be due to phenotypic plasticity, which could also indicate that instead of being a polymorphic species, it could be several species or subspecies.

From an ecological point of view, B. simaruba is a secondary species that lives in dry and humid forests. It has an altitudinal distribution from 0 to 1700 meters above sea level. It grows in places where the temperature averages 22 ° C, and with an annual precipitation range of 800-3000 mm.

In turn, B. simaruba grows in well-drained soils that can be clayey, loamy, sandy, acidic, and alkaline. It generally grows on lithosols, vertisols, and oxisols. It is a tree that grows in shady parts and in sunny parts. However, it is a species with a constant requirement for light.

Taxonomy

– Kingdom: Plantae.

– Subkingdom: Viridiplantae.

– Infra kingdom: Streptophyte.

– Super division: Embriofita.

– Division: Tracheophyte.

– Subdivision: Eufilofitina.

– Infra division: Lignofita.

– Class: Spermatophyte.

– Subclass: Magnoliofita.

– Superorder: Rosanae.

– Order: Sapindales.

– Family: Burseraceae.

– Tribe: Bursereae.

– Gender: Bursera.

– Species: Bursera simaruba  (L.) Sarg- palo mulato.

Explanation

Bursera simaruba is one of the hundred accepted species that exist of the genus Bursera . This genus is monophyletic and is subdivided into two subgroups,  Bursera and Bullockia.

From a geographical point of view,  Bursera simaruba  shows details that suggest that it may be several species. In this case,  B. simaruba shares  habit, habitat, number, shape and size of leaflets, and presence of pubescence with four other Bursera species . These are collectively referred to as satellite species.

For example, the satellite species B. attenuata, B. itzae, B. roseana , and B. ovalifolia , could have originated from isolated populations of B. simaruba . In phylogenetic terms this could mean that each satellite species appeared nested in a paraphyletic group of B. simaruba.

In all cases, it appears that Bursera simaruba forms a species complex, including tropical trees with a knotty taxonomic history that resulted from the overlapping geographic distributions of their species.

Currently 15 species are known within the Bursera simaruba complex , which are included by combinations of evolutionarily labile characters, rather than by a synapomorphy.

In addition to the morphological characteristics such as the number of leaflets and pubescence, the ecological qualities seem to help to delimit one species from another. These correspond, above all, to genetic differences.

Medicinal properties

Bursera simaruba is a tree that has shown potential use from an ethnobotanical point of view. Several extracts from parts of this tree have been reported to yield metabolites with anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, expectorant, and analgesic potential, among others.

Against malaria

Bursera simaruba has antimalarial components that can be extracted from the stem. In turn, it has been shown that three quasinoids (alainthinone, glaucarubinone, and halacanthone) isolated from the palo mulato, showed in vivo and in vitro activity against malaria.

Against amoebic dysentery and diarrhea

Several extracts, mainly stem, have been shown to have properties against amoebae, especially Entamoeba histolytica .

Against viral infections

Extracts from the stem of B. simaruba have been shown to have antiviral activity against herpes, influenza, polio, and other similar problems. The researchers suggest that this activity is largely due to some quasinoids present in its structure.

Against leukemia

The extracted and purified oils of Bursera simaruba have shown antitumor potential against different cancer cell lines. Low doses of glaucarubinone, alianthionone, and dehydroglaucarubinone from palo mulato have been found to have cytotoxic effects against cancer cells of leukemia.

Antioxidants

Different metabolites with active properties can be found in the stem resin of B. simaruba . Many of these metabolites are derived from triterpenes and have been characterized as having antioxidant potential. The best known are lupeol, epilupeol, epiglutinol, α-amyrin, and ß-amyrin. Furthermore, the antioxidant flavonoid luteolin has also been isolated from the resin of the stem of the palo mulato.

Luteolin chemical structure. Source: wikimedia commons

Antibiotics

Several components, especially those derived from the lignin fraction, have been isolated from B. simaruba , and have been characterized by showing antibiotic potential against various Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria.

Other uses

Bursera simaruba is widely known for its medicinal properties, especially in traditional medicine. However, this tree is also used as a lumber, because it produces a resistant wood. Although it does not have a great commercial recognition, it is used by the settlers to make different tools and for the manufacture of veneer.

In addition, B. simaruba is also used as an agroforestry tree, since the specimens serve closely to divide the plots.

For its part, the resin from the bark is used as homemade glue, and in varnishes as a substitute for gum arabic. The resin of this tree has been used as incense by the Mayans, and today it is used in rural populations.

In turn, this tree has been used as a forest resource for the reforestation of forests. While it also has a use as an ornamental tree, since having a wide crown, it provides shade. Thus, it is common to see it in the gardens of many houses.

Contraindications

Currently there are no reports of poisoning from Bursera simaruba , which is why it is a plant widely accepted as safe by the scientific community and by doctors who practice traditional medicine. In fact, various experts have suggested the need to remove poisonous ornamental plants and replace them with examples of palo mulato.

References

  1. BAH, M., Gutiérrez -Avella, D., Mendoza, S., Rodríguez -López, V., Castañeda -Moreno, R. 2014. Chemical constituents and antioxidant activity of extracts obtained from branch bark of Bursera simaruba . Latin American and Caribbean Bulletin of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, 13 (6): 527-536.
  2. Espinosa, D., Llorente, J., Morrone, JJ 2006. Historical biogeographical patterns of the species of Bursera (Burseraceae) and their taxonomic implications. Journal of Biogeography, 33: 1945–1958.
  3. Estrada-Faggioli, C. 2013. Bursera simaruba the sacred tree. BIOMES, 1 (7): 7-11.
  4. Gigliarelli, G., Becerra, JX, Curini, M., Marcotullio, MC 2015. Chemical composition and biological activities of fragrant Mexican copal ( Bursera spp.). Molecules, 20: 22383-22394.
  5. Gilman, EF, Watson, DG 1993. Bursera simaruba Gumbo-Limbo. Fact Sheet ST-104.
  6. Island Herbs & Spices. Gumbo limbo, copper Wood ( Bursera simaruba ) Barks-powder. Taken from: islandherbsandspices.com.
  7. Marcotullio, MC, Curini, M., Becerra, JX 2018. An ethnopharmacological, phytochemical, and pharmacological review on lignans from Mexican Bursera spp. Molecules, 23: 2-20.
  8. Noguera, B., Díaz, E., García, MV, San Feliciano, A :, López-Pérez, JL, Israel, A. 2004. Anti-inflammatory activity of leaf extract and fractions of Bursera simaruba (L.) Sarg ( Burseraceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 92: 129–133.
  9. Peraza-Sánchez, SR, Salazar-Aguilar, NE, Peña-Rodríguez, LM 1995. A New Triterpene from the Resin of Bursera simaruba . Journal of Natural Products, 58 (2): 271–274.
  10. Plant For a Future (1996-2012). Bursera simaruba (L.) Sarg. Taken from: pfaf.org.
  11. Orwa et al. 2009. Bursera simaruba (L.) Sarg. Agroforestry Database 4.0. 1-5,
  12. Raintree (2019). The tropical plant database: gumbo-limbo. Taken from: rain-tree.com.
  13. Rosell, JA, Olson, ME, Weeks, A., De-Nova, JA, Medina, R., Pérez, J., Feria, TP, Gómez-Bermejo, R., Montero, JC, Eguiarte, LE 2010. Diversification in species complexes: Tests of species origin and delimitation in the Bursera simaruba clade of tropical trees (Burseraceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 57: 798–811.
  14. Universal Taxonomic Services (2004-2019). Taxon: 
    Species  Bursera simaruba  (Linnaeus) Sarg. – gumbo limbo

     (plant). Taken taxonomicon.taxonomy.nl

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