The hidden cost of frankincense

A while back we covered a paper in Annals of Botany on tap­ping frankin­cense for resin. The map­ping of the canals in the tree prom­ised to improve the effi­cieny of tap­ping. Now in Tree Physiology Mengistu et al. have a paper Frankincense tap­ping reduces the car­bo­hydrate stor­age of Boswellia trees, that’s recently become free access.

Boswellia Trees

Boswellia Trees in Ethiopia. Photo by Motuma Tolera.

Mengistu et al. show that tap­ping for resin reduces the trees’ stores of starches and sug­ars. They also show that stores deplete any­way, as the tree uses them itself. The resin is part of a store that tides the tree over the dry period, and get replen­ished dur­ing the wet period.

The paper ties in well with the Annals paper. In that Tolera et al. argued resin tap­ping could be done just as effect­ively with fewer cuts. Fewer cuts means less chance for dis­ease to enter the tree. In the TreePhys paper Mengistu et al. argue that fewer cuts also means that trees have more of a chance to hold on to neces­sary stores of car­bon, if they need them.

The evid­ence is that intens­ive tap­ping of Boswellia papyrifera is a prob­lem and that the trees need some res­pite. However, there is also a reli­gious imper­at­ive to tap them. Balancing sup­ply and demand looks likely to remain a con­ten­tious problem.

Alun Salt. ORCID 0000-0002-1261-4283

When he's not the web developer for AoB Blog, Alun Salt researches something that could be mistaken for the archaeology of science. His current research is about whether there's such a thing as scientific heritage and if there is how would you recognise it?

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