Copal de Penca is a semi-hard, opaque white resin obtained from the Bursera genus. This often sticky form of copal is commonly referred to as Copal Blanco and Mexican White Copal in the incense trade. The resin produced by this species is one of the most prized and sought after copals in Mexico. It is often considered to have one of the heaviest bodies and the strongest fragrance, with one notable exception being Palo Santo resin. The incense smoke produces mild psychoactive effects somewhat similar to Boswellia sacra and other Frankincense species. That being said, Copal de Penca is an excellent substitute for Frankincense in Latin American incense blends.
The resin produces a wonderfully fragrant smoke when placed upon hot charcoal, melting and completely evaporating throughout the burn cycle. The aroma is very cleansing and quite complex with similar qualities to Elemi Gum and Alinsago Dammar. This superior form of the White Copal family has undertones of what appear to be black pepper. This incense produces a much richer fragrance than the easier to find "Copal Blanco" from Indonesia that is supper hard and is mostly transparent when broken apart (see Agathis philippinensis and Shorea species for examples). Heating the resin indirectly on an electric burner or hotplate also works quite well, just be sure to contain the resin as it will readily liquefy.
Copal finds numerous uses in its incense form throughout Mexican folk customs. The incense is commonly burned in churches and the smoke is thought to be cleansing of negative energies within households and other community areas. The Sierra Popoluca and Totontepec Mixe indians of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec have a specific hunting ritual that employs incense derived from Copal de Pence among other Burseras. It is thought that by censing the jawbones of animals killed during the hunt will allow their souls to return to their rightful place in the spirit world.
Outside on incense production, Copal de Penca resin is used medicinally for various complaints.It is thought to be useful for uterine diseases and is made into ointments for relieving headaches. The incense smoke is also traditionally thought to be helpful for headaches. A tea made from the bark of the tree is also thought to be helpful for various internal injuries and to be a cleansing expectant for the lungs. A dye may be made from the bark and the resin is said to make a fine varnish for traditional word workings.
Extracts from the leaves are useful for their insect repellent properties. The presence of Germacrene-D along with other organic hydrocarbons in the leaves is thought to contribute to the insecticidal properties of various members of the Burseraceae family, including Bursera copallifera, B. excelsa, B. fagaroides, B. graveolens, Boswellia sacra, Commiphora holtziana and C. myrrha. In recent studies, this chemical has been found to be repellent to not only herbivores (beetles), but also mosquitoes, aphids and ticks.
Bursera copallifera is native to the dry tropical forests of western Mexico. The main harvesting of the resin has centered around the La Mixteca region since pre-Hispanic times.
The species has been recorded in the states of Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Zacatecas.
Common English Copal Blanco, Mayan Copal, White Copal
Uralic tongues Finnish: Meksikontohtorinpuu
Latin American tongues Mexican Spanish: Copal Chino, Copal de Penca, Copal Santo Unspecied Mexican languages: Chichiacle, Copalillo, Iztacteteo, Ticomaca
NOTE: The research on Boswellia copallifera moderate is ongoing. We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. Please expect the above information to be revised as more information becomes available. If you have further information about this species or if you wish to submit a correction to this page, please feel free to contact us here
As of 2016, we have decided to majorly simplify the taxonomic structures of the species collection. Due to the numerous systems available, and many species being disputed and in a state of flux, we feel that most of our audience will be better served with a easier to understand condensed listing.