Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Frankincense collection can damage trees, and threaten the livelihoods of villages who depend on them

Date:
December 10, 2012
Source:
Oxford University Press (OUP)
Summary:
Frankincense is harvested by wounding the bark of trees and collecting the resin that is subsequently released from the wound, a process known as tapping. Tapping is carried out at several spots along the stem, using a traditional type of tool that resembles a chisel. The procedure is repeated in 8-12 tapping rounds during the dry season, which lasts about 8 months. But high demand means that many trees are being over-exploited and populations are at risk of dying out, threatening the livelihoods of villagers who depend on them.

At this time of year it is hard to escape the Three Wise Men, riding their camels across Christmas cards and appearing in miniature form in countless school nativity plays across the world, bearing their gifts for the infant Jesus. Whilst we are all familiar with gold, it is the mention of frankincense and myrrh that really says "Christmas" to us and and takes our imaginations back to ancient times. But you might be surprised to learn that these two fragrances are still big business today; for example, Ethiopia alone trades around 4000 tonnes of frankincense every year. This is all the more remarkable because a single tree from which the resin is harvested will typically yield about 200-350g per year. The main international trade comes from a tree called Boswellia papyrifera, and Ethiopia is the main exporting country.

Frankincense is harvested by wounding the bark of trees and collecting the resin that is subsequently released from the wound, a process known as tapping. Tapping is carried out at several spots along the stem, using a traditional type of tool that resembles a chisel. The procedure is repeated in 8-12 tapping rounds during the dry season, which lasts about 8 months. But high demand means that many trees are being over-exploited and populations are at risk of dying out, threatening the livelihoods of villagers who depend on them.

But help may be on hand as the results of a new study by botanists from Ethiopia and the Netherlands led by Motuma Tolera, which could secure a future for the trees by revealing the anatomy of the resin secretory system.

Motuma Tolera explains, "In some areas, the high demand for frankincense is causing over-tapping, which is bad for a couple of reasons. Tapping the tree creates wounds in the stem that take resources to be healed, and more wounds create more opportunities for insects to attack the tree. It's not a surprise that some trees die. This is bad for the tree but also for the people living in those areas, since they depend on the resin production, both economically and culturally.

"One of the problems is the lack of knowledge of the type, architecture and distribution of resin producing, storing and transporting structures in the tree. Such knowledge is needed for improved tapping techniques in the future."

The study, published this month in the Annals of Botany, provides this detailed knowledge for the first time.

Motuma Tolera said, "What we found was a 3-D network of inter-connected canals in the inner bark. Most of these canals are within a very narrow region of the inner bark, in a zone that is less than 7 millimeters thick. These allow for the transport of resin around the tree. We also found a few canals connecting deep into the xylem, the heart of the tree."

The findings will have practical applications for the people of Ethiopia and other frankincense producers. Traditional tapping starts with a shallow wound, from which a relatively small amount of resin is released. The wound is then re-opened later with a cut that goes a bit deeper and more resin is collected -- a process that is repeated over and over again. The amount of resin collected peaks after about 5-7 rounds of tapping, which the study suggests is the point at which the wound reaches the main region of resin canals.

Motuma Tolera says, "Our results suggest that tapping can become more efficient. A cut that goes deeper, earlier in the tapping cycle, may drain the resin more effectively. Since the 3-D resin canal network may allow for long distance movement of resin when it is intact, this would be an option to reduce the number of cuts, and reduce the damage to the trees. New studies will be needed to show how such improvements may keep trees healthy but still productive for resin production. This opens new ways for a more sustainable frankincense production system."

"It's nice to discover something new, but here we also have the opportunity to give something back to the people who helped us with the study. I hope everyone in Lemlem Terara, but also elsewhere in Ethiopia, will benefit from what we have found in the future." Tolera says.

The team hope the results mean more Boswellia trees will live to see next Christmas.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Oxford University Press (OUP). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. Tolera, D. Menger, U. Sass-Klaassen, F. J. Sterck, P. Copini, F. Bongers. Resin secretory structures of Boswellia papyrifera and implications for frankincense yield. Annals of Botany, 2012; DOI: 10.1093/aob/mcs236

Cite This Page:

Oxford University Press (OUP). "Frankincense collection can damage trees, and threaten the livelihoods of villages who depend on them." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121210080637.htm>.
Oxford University Press (OUP). (2012, December 10). Frankincense collection can damage trees, and threaten the livelihoods of villages who depend on them. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121210080637.htm
Oxford University Press (OUP). "Frankincense collection can damage trees, and threaten the livelihoods of villages who depend on them." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121210080637.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins