Four species of trees were selected to evaluate the tolerance to heavy crude oil contamination by means of a tolerance index integrating germination, height, biomass and survival as variables. Fresh seeds to Cedrela odorata (tropical cedar), Haematoxylum campechianum (tinto bush), Swietenia macrophylla (mahogany) and Tabebuia rosea (macuilis) were planted in a Vertisol to which heavy crude petroleum was added at four different treatments (C0, 0; C1, 18,940; C2, 44,000; and C3, 57,000 mg kg(-1)), with the control being uncontaminated soil. The experiment was carried out in a greenhouse during 203 days with a completely random design. The presence of petroleum in soil stimulated and increased germination of S. macrophylla and C. odorata, accelerated the germination of T. rosea and did not affect the germination of H. campechianum. The height and biomass of all species was reduced in the presence of petroleum in the soil. The survival of S. macrophylla and H. campechianum was not affected by petroleum at any concentration studied. On the other hand, C. odorata and T. rosea showed high mortality at all concentrations. The tolerance index showed that S. macrophylla was best at tolerating petroleum in soil and could be employed as a productive alternative for the advantageous use of contaminated sites. The use of tree species could be important because of the great potential of trees for phytoremediation due to their long life, biomass and deep roots that can penetrate and remediate deeper soil layers.