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Bálsamo / Myroxylon balsamum

Local Names
Cedro chino, Nabal, Chirraca, Sándalo, Tache, Tolú, Estoraque, Cabriúva vermelha, Incienso, Quina, Sangre de Gato, Tacho, Olor, Chana-Chana, Chucte, Chirraca.
Distribution & Tree
Santos mahogany has a wide range from southern Mexico southward through Central America and through much of South America (excluding portions of the lower Amazon Basin and Guyanas) to Argentina. The species has been introduced to West Africa and South Asia. A large, slow-growing tree, it reaches up to 30 meters in height and up to 90 cm in diameter with cream-colored flowers and straight, cylindrical trunk. It grows in flat, calcareous soils, along karstic slopes, and rocky soils of igneous origin.
Wood Appearance
Heartwood reddish-brown becoming deep red or purplish upon exposure, varying from uniform to striped with a sharply demarcated white sapwood. Luster is medium to high, texture fine, and grain is typically inter-locked. The wood may have a pleasant spicy scent similar to that of Spanish cedar. Its tone has been compared to genuine mahogany but is a rosier color (it belongs to a separate genus). The lighter and more distinctive the red coloring, the more valuable the wood.
Processing Properties
The wood is reported to be moderately difficult to work but can be finished smoothly with a high natural polish. Planing may be difficult, although it machines and slices into veneer well. Though low in silica, the wood is high in oil, making treatment and gluing difficult. There is more than the usual dulling of cutters and tungsten-carbide or Stellite-tipped implements are recommended. Seasons well with minimal warping. Resistant to preservative treatments (though none usually necessary). A dust mask/respirator is recommended.
Strength & Durability
A heavy and durable timber, the heartwood is reported to be highly resistant to attack by decay fungi, even in contact with the ground. Good dimensional stability. (Class 1 under ASTM D 2017-5 and class I under EN 350-2).
Wood Uses
Decorative veneers, flooring, fine furniture, cabinetry, interior trim, turnery, railroad crossties, stairs, billiard cues, sporting articles, naval construction, bridges, beams, and truck frames. It’s employed as a tonewood in guitars and marimbas.
Ecological & Social Importance

The tree is well known for its yield of “Peru balsam” used in perfumes, harvested mainly in El Salvador whose aroma is reminiscent of vanilla. The resin is produced by incising the tree’s bark in the form of a “V”. The bark is heated with wooden torches to encourage drainage and liquid absorbed into clothes. The impregnated cloth is then boiled and pressed. When cool, it solidifies into bright crystalline pieces. A single tree may yield up to 4 to 5 lbs per year. (The process can be observed in this video). Medically, the balsam is used for respiratory infections and can also be applied to the skin as an antiseptic. In Mexico, balsam was even used to flavor gum. Its nutty seed is consumed in local markets. In Coban, it’s been added to homemade liquor as a flavoring. The seed’s oil is employed to extract an oil prized for cosmetics.

It was an article of commerce in pre-Conquest Mesoamerica and a form of tribute paid to the Aztec emperors. It was the subject of two Papal Bulls issued in the 16th century authorizing the clergy the use of “balsamo negro” in the preparation of the chrism and has been used as an incense to the present in church services. Two towns on Guatemala’s Pacific coast are named for the tree.

Reference Species
Technical CharacteristicsSantos MahoganyHickory (Shagbark)Black Locust
Janka Hardnesskgf1,179853771
Bending Stiffness (Modulus of Elasticity)GPa16.414.914.1
Bending Strength (Modulus of Rupture)MPa148.7139.3133.8
Crushing StrengthMPa80.663.570.3
Shrinkage, Radial%3.8%7.0%4.6%
Shrinkage, Tangential%6.2%10.5%7.2%
Shrinkage, Volumetric%10.0%16.7%10.2%
T/R Ratio1.61.51.6
Values determined at 12% humidity - Provided for reference only







Values are for reference only and cannot be guaranteed. Wood is a natural material and physical and mechanical properties may vary depending on age, genetics, and other factors. We encourage customers to consult the references provided in the bibliography. For further explanations of wood’s key technical characteristics, an excellent resource is the Wood Database with articles on Density (average dried weight); Janka hardness; Elastic Modulus; Rupture Modulus; Crushing Strength; Radial, Tangential and Volumetric Shrinkage.

ReferencesView Source
Bálsamo. Laboratorio de Productos Forestales. Universidad Nacional de Colombia. 2018.
"Maderas de Colombia." GFTN. WWF
Bálsamo. "Catalogo de Arboles." Red de Viveros de Biodiversidad (México).
Bálsamo. "Fichas técnicas sobre características
tecnológicas y usos de maderas
comercializadas en México." Tomo II. CONAFOR.
Balsamo. ITTO Lesser Known Species.
Bálsamo. Vignote Peña "Principales Maderas Tropicales Utilizadas en España."
Catálogo virtual de flora del Valle de Aburrá, Universidad EIA
Fichas tecnicas de especies de uso forestal y agroforestal en la Amazonia colombiana.
Martin Ivan Montero Gonzalez, Jaime Alberto Barrera Garcia, Bernardo Giraldo Benavides,
Armando Antonio Lucena Mancera. Bogota, D.C., Colombia: lnstituto Amaz6nico de
lnvestigaciones Cientificas SINCHI, 2016
Gérard, J. Guibal, D. et al. "Tropical Timber Atlas: Technological characteristics and uses." ITTO. Éditions Quæ, 2017.
León Hernández, WJ. "Anatomía de Maderas de 130 Especies de Venezuela." PE 2. PITTIERIA. Universidad de los Andes. 2020
Myroxylon balsamum. Vázquez-Yanes, C., A. I. Batis Muñoz, M. I. Alcocer Silva, M. Gual Díaz y C. Sánchez Dirzo. 1999. Árboles y arbustos potencialmente valiosos para la restauración ecológica y la reforestación. Reporte técnico del proyecto J084. CONABIO - Instituto de Ecología, UNAM.
Myroxylon balsamum. Vozzo, J.A. (ed) "Manual de Semillas de Arboles Tropicales." 2010.
MYROXYLON BALSAMUM. Wood Technology Transfer Fact Sheets. Forest Products Laboratory. USDA Forest Service.
Myroxylon balsamum. World Agroforestry Centre database
Myroxylum balsamum. Cordero, J. Boshier, D. "Arboles de Centroamerica: Un manual para extensionistas." Oxford/Catie. 2003
Santos Mahogany. The Wood Database.
Standley, PC. Williams, LO. Gibson, DN. "Flora of Guatemala." Volume 24. Field Museum of Natural History. 1974.