Under greenhouse conditions, we evaluated establishment of four tree species and their capacity to degrade crude oil recently incorporated into the soil; the species were as follows: Cedrela odorata (tropical cedar), Haematoxylum campechianum (tinto bush), Swietenia macrophylla (mahogany), and Tabebuia rosea (macuilis). Three-month-old plants were planted in soil with three treatments of heavy petroleum and a control (C0 0 mg kg−1; C1 18,000 mg kg−1; C2 31,700 mg kg−1; C3 47,100 mg kg−1) with four repetitions per treatment and species; the experiment was carried out for 245 days. Height and biomass of all species significantly diminished as petroleum concentration increased, although plant survival was not affected. The quantity of colony-forming units (CFU) of rhizospheric bacteria varied among tree species and treatments; petroleum stimulated bacterial CFU for S. macrophylla. The number of fungi CFU for S. macrophylla and T. rosea was significantly greater in C0 than in soil with petroleum, but among species and among different concentrations, no significant differences were found. The greatest percentage of total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) degradation was found in C1 for soil without plants (45 %). Differences from the remaining treatments (petroleum concentrations in soil and plant species) were not significant (P <0.05). Among all trees, H. campechianum had the greatest TPH degradation (32.5 % in C2). T. rosea (C1) and H. campechianum (C2) resulted in petroleum degradation at levels ranging from 20.5 to 32.5 %. On the basis of this experiment, the tree species used did not improve TPH degradation. However, all of them showed high rates of survival and vigor. So, as tree species provide goods and services, experiments with inoculation of hydrocarbonclastic microorganisms, addition of fertilizers, and mixture of tree and grasses are recommended.