Commiphora kataf subsp. turkanensis


Amyris kataf
Balsamea kataf
Balsamodendrum kataf
Balsamophloeos kataf


Commiphora kataf is widespread in Africa and the Middle East, in a vast area that includes Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, northern Tanzania, Arabia and Yemen.

Its diverse habitat includes wooded meadows, scrub and scrub of arid coastal environments. Also, Commiphora kataf (therefore also the subsp. Turkanensis) can form woods in association with different species of Acacia.


Commiphora kataf subsp. turkanensis is a small tree of the Burseraceae family that reaches 8 meters in height in its natural habitat! It is one of the subspecies of Commiphora kataf, of which there are different forms due to the variability of its bark. Even botanists can hardly distinguish the various subspecies of Commiphora kataf! Difficulties are also found at interspecific level: Commiphora kataf also closely resembles some sub-species of Commiphora holtziana. The extreme variability of these taxa makes our Commiphora kataf subsp. turkanensis even more rare and special. turkanensis!

You will immediately notice the copious white papery bark, which sometimes comes off in several pieces. Under the bark, its trunk is dark brown-greyish. The branches are twisted and not very numerous. They bear bright green compound leaves, whose petioles carry groups of three drop-shaped leaflets. In its natural environment the trunk can become up to 50 centimeters thick, and remain branchless up to 5 meters high.

Commiphora has both male and female flowers on the same plant and globose fruits develop from the fertilized female flowers. Baboons are crazy of these friuts: by eating them these monkeys contribute to the spread of seeds!


Due to its small size and few branches this species is very popular in the world of bonsais, also because C. kataf is very resistant to drastic cuts.

Commiphora kataf (the advice also applies to its subspecies) grows vigorously and will not give you a problem if you place it in a bright spot and in a well-drained substrate. The main cause of failure in the cultivation of this sapling is the excessive amount of water. Commiphora kataf should in fact receive water about every 3-4 days in Spring and Summer, that is its growing season, while, with the arrival of Winter, the water supply must be reduced until it is completely suspended. When the plant wants to tell you that it is thirsty, the caudex becomes smaller and wrinkled. Due to its not very large roots C. kataf subsp. turkanensis can also be planted in not very deep pots.


Propagation of C. kataf can be carried out by seed or cutting. The cutting is recommended above all because it is much more likely to get a good result, since the twigs of this plant easily take root on the substrate!


The name “Commiphora” comes from the Greek kommi, “gum” and “phorus”, hole. Many species of Commiphora in fact form gummy resins such as Mecca balsam and myrrh (extracted from C. myrrha), which are widely used in cosmetics and the production of incense.

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