(Polygamo-)dioecious shrubs or trees, sometimes caudiciform, sometimes rupicolous; bark close or more often papery and peeling; inner bark usually green; resin usually aromatic and drying gummy; branches often armed, the spines modified axillary shoots or shoot apices. Leaves usually clustered near branchlet apices, deciduous, exstipulate, often flushing during or after anthesis, imparipinnate or sometimes tri- or unifoliolate, rarely hetero-trifoliolate; rachis terete (rarely winged); petiolules lacking pulvinuli; leaflets entire, crenate, or toothed, sometimes lobed, intersecondary veins frequent and parallel to secondaries. Inflorescences axillary or subterminal, sometimes pseudospicate or pseudo-fasciculate or dichasial, or reduced to 1–3-flowered cymes, rarely with large foliose bracts. Flowers unisexual or rarely some flowers bisexual, 4(5)-parted; receptacle flat to funnel-shaped, sometimes with the calyx forming a hypanthium in male flowers; calyx cupular to tubular, usually divided less than halfway to base, imbricate; corolla (induplicate-)valvate at apex but often imbricate along sides, usually with inflexed apiculum; stamens in two strongly unequal series, rarely haplostemonous, inserted at base of or on top of intrastaminal disk, sometimes filaments adnate to a hypanthium; intrastaminal annular disk distinct, sometimes adnate to a hypanthium, rarely pubescent; pistillode with reduced locules and ovules, or rudimentary, or obsolete, rarely fused with disk to form an ovariodisk; gynoecium 2(3)-carpellate, style short, stigma capitate. Fruit a compound drupe with fleshy to coriaceous pericarp, septicidally dehiscent by 2 (4, very rarely 3) valves, exposing a basifixed compound pyrene, this either enveloped by a brightly colored, fleshy, arillate structure, or the arillate structure partially covers the pyrene from the base and extends lobes or linear arms up the faces and/or sutures (usually both); 1(2) locule(s) developing a seed and 1(2) usually abortive; apex of pyrene sometimes with two apical pits between the locules (these probably assisting the absorption of water before germination). Testa membranaceous; cotyledons palmately 3-lobed or multilobed and flat or folded. Germination phanerocotylar, the first eophylls opposite and simple. n = 13.
Approx. 185 spp., Africa, Madagascar, Arabia, peninsular India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela, C and NE Brazil, E Bolivia.
Original Publication: Commiphora Jacq., Pl. Hort. Schoenbr. 2: 66, t. 249 (1797)
Synonyms: Balsamodendrum Kunth (1824).
Bibliography: Gillett, J.B., Burseraceae, in: Flora of Tropical East Africa (1991).