Diesel Trees

Authored by: Lee Joyce Blake , Al-Ahmad Hani , Feng Chen , C. Neal Stewart

Handbook of Bioenergy Crop Plants

Print publication date:  March  2012
Online publication date:  April  2012

Print ISBN: 9781439816844
eBook ISBN: 9781315099255
Adobe ISBN:


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The natural history of diesel trees has a long interaction with humans in the realm of economic botany. Trees in the genus Copaifera belong to the subfamily Caesalpinioideae in the family Fabaceae. In total, there are more than 70 species of Copaifera distributed throughout the world with at least 30 species found in South and Central America, primarily in Brazil, four species in Africa, and one in Malaysia and the Pacific Islands (Dwyer 1951, 1954; Hou 1994). The first species in the genus Copaifera was described by George Marcgraf and Willem Pies in 1628, but no formal species name was ascribed to the plant, although later it was deemed Copaifera martii on the basis of the description by Veiga Junior and Pinto (2002). Oleoresin from a Copaifera tree was listed as a drug in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1677 and to the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1820, and Linnaeus first described the genus Copaifera in 1762 (Plowden 2004). Later, more descriptions of Copaifera species were completed by Hayne in 1825 and Bentham in 1876 (Dwyer 1951). The current taxonomy of the genus has been largely defined by Dwyer and Léonard, who resolved the differences between the genera Copaifera and Guibourtia and further developed the New World and African species descriptions in the early 1950s (Léonard 1949, 1950; Dwyer 1951, 1954). Some species are still difficult to identify in the field, even to specialists, because of an incomplete taxonomy and esoteric species differences that rely on intricate flower morphology and other transient characteristics than can be difficult to ascertain or collect compared with leaf morphology. To complicate this situation further, Copaifera trees have been known to only flower once every 2 or 3 years in Amazônia (Alencar 1982; Pedroni et al. 2002). Furthermore, most up-to-date references on Copaifera taxonomy are in Portuguese, which hampers the interchange of information among the mainstream of scientists.

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