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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.



Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, July 23, 2019/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, sustainability, environment, adventure , plants

                                            Old Growth Frankincense Tree, Oman (credit: Wikipedia)

According to the Biblical story, three wise men (Magi) greeted the baby Jesus bearing gifts. They carried gold, myrrh, and a highly valued ancient commodity, frankincense. Its fragrance was treasured by the Greeks, the Romans, and is still used today. Frankincense is the dry resin collected by tapping a shrubby tree, Boswellia. The trees grow in dry forests found in the mountains of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, in Somalia and Ethiopia. The Boswellia forests are in trouble as the demand for the dried sap continues growing worldwide for use in expensive perfumes, as essential oils for commercial skin care products, and as incense for sacred religious and temple rights.


       Raw Frankincense resin (credit: Wikipedia)                         Perfume Sample bottles (credit: the ABC)

New research published in Nature Sustainability provides evidence of the collapse of a prime frankincense producing species (Boswellia papyrifera) throughout its natural geographic range. The causes of this forest decline include: over-exploitation of the individual trees and degratation of the forest landscapes from livestock grazing which have jeopardized frankincense production for the future. The Nature researchers say:

over 75% of the populations we studied lacked small trees, natural regeneration has been absent for decades, and projected frankincense production will be halved in 20 yr. The ecosystem changes have resulted from increased human population pressure on Boswellia woodlands, cattle grazing, frequent fires, and reckless resin tapping.

They also make recommendations on how to restore the ecosystem to sustain the Boswellia trees and the people who depend on their valued commodity. A non-profit organization, Fair Trade Frankincense, is working to educate both frankincense resin tappers in the remaining forests, industrial users of the natural commodity, and consumers who use the resulting products.

The efforts of these ecologists and environmental campaigners are a daunting task in such conflicted, remote mountain landscapes few have heard of. However, their work still shows the direct, if subtle, connections everyone has to remote trees and ecosystems far from New York, Paris, or Beijing.



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