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Gluta usitata - Gluta usitata

Common Name Burmese Varnish Tree
Family Anacardiaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards Brief contact with the plant can cause allergies and chemical irritation of the skin[374 ]. The sap can cause dermatitis[316 ]. A resinous exudate from the wood can cause severe skin irritation[451 ]. The smoke of the burning wood can cause severe irritation, particularly to the eyes[374 ].
Habitats Open forests, rare in dry forests[146 ].
Range Southeast Asia - Myanmar, Thailand.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Gluta usitata Burmese Varnish Tree
Gluta usitata Burmese Varnish Tree


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A deciduous tree with a straight, clean cylindrical trunk and a spreading crown composed of dark leaves characterizes Burmese Varnish Tree or Gluta usitata. It is highly valued for the lacquer that its trunk produces. The lacquer is used for producing varnish, waterproof or preservative paint, glue, ceramic, and lacquerware. The resinous wood exudate is toxic and can cause severe skin irritation thus timber should be dried and exposed for several years. The wood is also of good quality and commonly used for furniture and inlay work. The tree is considered an endangered species.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of lolypop
Gluta usitata is a deciduous Tree growing to 25 m (82ft) by 20 m (65ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Melanorrhoea usitata Wall.


Edible Uses

None known

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

None known

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Other Uses

Other Uses: A natural lacquer or varnish is obtained from the trunk[439 ]. To obtain the varnish, V-shaped incisions, 22cm long and 15cm apart at the base, are cut on the bark of the trees, the apex pointing down. The tongue of bark within these scars is then slightly lifted up and a specially prepared joint of bamboo driven in horizontally immediately below the apex of the incision. The sap which exudes from the inner bark drains into the bamboo receiver. This is emptied at the end of ten days, when the flow of varnish is observed to become scanty[439 ]. A second cut is made along each side of the contained tongue of bark, which is also again raised up slightly and the bamboo receiver placed more conveniently to the new scarification. After this has yielded all the varnish that seems likely, a new incision is made a little higher up[439 ]. It would appear that young trees yield better than fully formed ones[439 ]. The tree is largely utilised in its liquid state as a natural varnish, and has the great merit of preserving woodwork. Thickened by sawdust, cow-dung ashes, or bone-ashes to a plastic condition, it is employed as a cement and body material or moulding substance[439 ]. It may be coloured with lamp-black, gold-leaf, vermilion (not red lead), orpiment, indigo, etc., and applied with a brush or by the hand direct, or to objects revolving on the turning-lathe[439 ]. When painted on cloth or paper the form used is very thin and pure, but on drying the articles are found to have been rendered waterproof[439 ]. As a cement it is largely employed in the Burmese glass mosaics, but by far its best-known property is in the manufacture of the so-called Burmese lacquer ware, of which there are four types and centres of production Pagan ; Prome ; Mandalay ; and Manipur leather varnish[439 ]. The wood is dark red with yellowish streaks, turning very dark after long exposure[146 ]. It is very hard[146 ]. A handsome wood, it is worthy of being better known[146 ]. It is used for tool handles and anchor stocks, and has been recommended for construction, railway ties, gun stocks etc[146 ]. A resinous exudate from the wood can cause severe skin irritation[451 ]. The poisonous constituent of the resinous sap is volatile and will gradually disappear. For this reason, the timber of this tree must be dried and exposed for several years as it is otherwise dangerous to handle. Lacquered articles or furniture made from the dried timber may still be toxic to persons who are especially susceptible[451 ].

Cultivation details

Not known

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Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Burmese Lacquer Tree

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

India; Myanmar; Thailand

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

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Gluta usitata

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Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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