Myroxylon balsamum

Invasive species Disclaimer

In view of the fact that some tree species are invasive, the world Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) has put in place a policy document on Invasive Alien Species, currently under draft available at Here.

For more information on this subject, please refer to
100 of the World's worst Invasive and Alien Species.

Species Index    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Multiple Criteria Search

Abelmoschus moschatus
Acacia aneura
Acacia angustissima
Acacia aulacocarpa
Acacia auriculiformis
Acacia catechu
Acacia cincinnata
Acacia crassicarpa
Acacia elatior
Acacia erioloba
Acacia etbaica
Acacia ferruginea
Acacia glauca
Acacia holosericea
Acacia karroo*
Acacia koa
Acacia laeta
Acacia lahai
Acacia leptocarpa
Acacia leucophloea
Acacia mangium
Acacia mearnsii*
Acacia melanoxylon
Acacia mellifera
Acacia nilotica subsp nilotica
Acacia pachycarpa
Acacia pennatula
Acacia polyacantha ssp. polyacantha
Acacia saligna
Acacia senegal
Acacia seyal
Acacia sieberiana
Acacia tortilis
Acacia xanthophloea
Acrocarpus fraxinifolius
Adansonia digitata
Adenanthera pavonina
Aegle marmelos
Afzelia africana
Afzelia quanzensis
Agathis macrophylla
Agathis philippinensis
Ailanthus altissima
Ailanthus excelsa
Ailanthus triphysa
Albizia adianthifolia
Albizia amara
Albizia anthelmintica
Albizia chinensis
Albizia coriaria
Albizia ferruginea
Albizia gummifera
Albizia julibrissin
Albizia lebbeck
Albizia odoratissima
Albizia procera
Albizia saman
Albizia versicolor
Albizia zygia
Aleurites moluccana
Allanblackia floribunda
Allanblackia stuhlmannii
Allanblackia ulugurensis
Alnus acuminata
Alnus cordata
Alnus japonica
Alnus nepalensis
Alnus rubra
Alphitonia zizyphoides
Alstonia boonei
Alstonia congensis
Alstonia scholaris
Altingia excelsa
Anacardium occidentale
Andira inermis
Annona cherimola
Annona muricata
Annona reticulata
Annona senegalensis
Annona squamosa
Anogeissus latifolia
Anthocephalus cadamba
Antiaris toxicaria
Antidesma bunius
Araucaria bidwillii
Araucaria cunninghamii
Arbutus unedo
Areca catechu
Arenga pinnata
Argania spinosa
Artemisia annua
Artocarpus altilis
Artocarpus camansi
Artocarpus heterophyllus
Artocarpus integer
Artocarpus lakoocha
Artocarpus mariannensis
Asimina triloba
Ateleia herbert-smithii
Aucomea klaineana
Averrhoa bilimbi
Averrhoa carambola
Azadirachta excelsa
Azadirachta indica
Azanza garckeana
Related Links
Myroxylon balsamum: Mature tree
© Soraya Alvarenga Botelho
Myroxylon balsamum: Leaves and flowers
© Soraya Alvarenga Botelho
Myroxylon balsamum: Flowers
© Soraya Alvarenga Botelho

Local names:
English (Tolu balsam,Peru balsam), Portuguese (óleo-bálsamo,cabreúva-vermelha,cabreúva), Spanish (quinoquino,quina,palo de balsamo,Bálsamo de sonsonate,balsamo), Trade name (santos mahogany,Peruvian balsam,incienso,balsamo,balsam of Peru)

Myroxylon balsamum is a tree growing to 34 m in height and 1 m in diameter. The bark is generally grey and spotted with rough yellow areas.

Leaves oddly pinnate, 3-11 leaves, 6-9 cm long and 3-4 cm wide with scattered translucent, glandular oil dots or lines.

Flowers are whitish, corolla 5-petalled.

Pods winged 8-13 cm long and 2.5 cm broad containing one seed at the tip.

The generic epithet is derived from Greek “myron” meaning perfume or sweet oil and “xylon” wood. There is confusion about the number of species and varieties in the genus Myroxylon, however, 2 species are assigned to the genus; M. balsamum and M. peruiferum both native to Central and South America. Two varieties are recognized namely var. balsamum (tolu balsam) and var. pereirae (Peru balsam).


M. balsamum grows in areas with annual precipitation ranging from 1 350-4 030 mm (mean 2 640 mm), annual mean temp of 27-32 deg C, and soils with mildly acidic pH.

Native range
Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela

Tree management

The trees are not a profitable source of balsam until about the 15th year. Under proper management, trees yield gum for 30-40 years. Gum harvesting begins on 20-30 year old trees with minimum diameters of 12-15 cm. Twenty year old trees yield about 3 kg of gum per year. Wild populations are the major sources of Peru and tolu balsam. Gum harvesting is drastic and may cause serious tree injury or deaths.

The presence of high levels of coumarin in the cotyledons and embryonic axis seems to have no effect on the germination of this species, but it seems to act as an allelopathic factor. There are about 1 700 seeds/kg.

M. balsamum grows in areas with annual precipitation ranging from 1 350-4 030 mm (mean 2 640 mm), annual mean temp of 27-32 deg C, and soils with mildly acidic pH.

It is mainly propagated through natural regeneration but seed can also be planted in a mixture of clay and organic matter to a depth of 0.5 cm, covered with fine soil and watered daily. Germination beds or containers should be partially shaded. Seeds germinate in 15-30 days with a success rate of over 50%. Seedlings are ready for outplanting in 5 months. Seedlings grow to 2.5 m in 2 years.

Timber:  Balsam wood is used for flooring, furniture, cabinetwork, 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, has a spicy scent and is very resistant to fungal decay. The wood has a density of 900-1 090 kg/cubic metre and a specific gravity of 0.74-0.81. Shrinkage values from green to oven dry are very low for a wood of this density. The wood is not commercially marketed.

Shade or shelter:  This is a good shade tree.

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 tolu and Peru balsam inhibit Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Gum or resin:  M. balsamum’s var. balsamum and pereirae yield gums called tolu and Peru balsam, respectively. These gums are used mainly as flavouring in cough syrups, soft drinks, confectionaries, ice cream and chewing gums.

Nitrogen fixing:  The balsam tree nodulates and fixes nitrogen.

Ornamental:  The tree is sometimes grown as an ornamental in gardens.

Intercropping: The Peru Balsam is grown as a coffee shade tree in El Salvador.

Alcohol:  The seeds are used to flavour aguardiente, a popular alcoholic beverage in Latin America.

Essential oil:  Balsam gum contains about 60% cinnamein, a volatile oil extracted by steam distillation. The oil is used in high-grade perfume, cosmetic and soap industries. Oil also used in flavouring baked goods. Its fragrance is attributed to vanillin,

Other services:  Balsam oil is used as incense in churches and as a hair set and thickening agent.