Frankincense has been part of the nativity story, making it part of many yuletide seasons for years. But what is the current state of its production now?
Frankincense is a resin derived from a species of Boswellia tree. Frankincense derived from the Old French name ‘franc encens’, which means ‘pure incense’.
Five out of 20 species of Boswellia have been used for the production of frankincense, all of which can be found from West Africa to India. In the Old Testament, it is said that any frankincense mentioned were likely extracted from B. papyrifera, which is the main source of frankincense today.
B. papyrifera is a small tree and in its premature stage, it develops deep roots yet its parts above the ground die back during the dry season, which is called a suffrutescent stage. Once it has developed a deep root system, that’s when it grows into a tree. This allows them to survive on dry, rocky surfaces.
However, although the numbers of B. papyrifera trees are abundant, they are now at risk from excessive resin tapping. If the trees are exploited in moderation, it can still recover, but not when it’s frequently tapped without a rest period. Otherwise, this may lead to poor seed production or worse, can cause the death of a tree.
Researchers said that unless there’s urgent conservation, frankincense production will likely be reduced by half in 20 years.