Friday, December 23, 2011

Don't Panic About the Frankincense Panic! Let's Make Plans for Plantations, though! A tree grows in Miami!

!!!Debunking alert!!! - Joking with all the exclamation points, including those in the title of this blog, but c'mon, what an overwrought, slightly incorrect article we're talking about.  In case you haven't heard, the perfumery media is buzzing with alarm over the doom and gloom article cited below.

Who doesn't love Scientific American?  Well, they posted an "EXTINCTION ALERT" (my caps, as a salute to the tabloid-type hype they incurred a few days before Christmas) on frankincense that has the perfume world alarmed.  Repeating some rather scary stats from the Journal of Applied Ecology, everyone is now on edge that frankincense, the Biblical, historical iconic resin tree that has survived for thousands of years in some of the worst growing conditions on the plant, may only last another 50 years.

I say baloney. The headline "Bad News for Christmas: Frankincense Future Uncertain" only adds to the sensationalist nature of this article, in a supposedly well-vetted (peer reviewed, I would think) publication/blog.   I do hope a real journalist takes on that Applied Ecology report, but I don't have high hopes, as sensation sells and seduces.

First of all, they looked at one species of frankincense, Boswellia papyrifera, growing in one region - Ethiopia.  There are many species of Boswellia, and papyrifera is not a major player in the frankincense resin field, and that's what everyone is interested in, the sweet fragrance of the resin.  They say the papyrifera is tapped for resin, but it's not a major crop, and I've been collecting various Boswellia resins for a number of years.

Granted, they also quote: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources includes 10 Boswellia species on the Red List of Threatened Species, eight of which are listed as vulnerable to extinction.  I went to the website and couldn't figure out how to use the Red List, and I'm sure that B. sacra/carterii is on there, and that is the frankincense most treasured by us perfumers.

My dear friend, Trygve Harris, who lives in Oman a good part of the year, is, in my opinion, and by the opinion of many others, one of the world's experts on frankincense.  A few days ago, upon hearing of my purchase of a tiny B. sacra sapling, Trygve began to send me LOTS of great pictures of frankincense trees in Oman. When they arrived, I urged her to add a SEARCH function to her amazing blog, and she did, and I encourage you to go to AbsoluteTrygve and have a good look at her posts on frankincense.  She senses the air and the rain and the soil they grow in like a spiritual earth mother of frankincense, and she balances out the problems and opportunities of this tree like no one I know.  Oh, plus, she makes frankincense ice cream and now has a shop opening in Salalah to sell the yummy dessert. Wallah! (I've picked up Trygve's often use of this Arabic word, which basically means "I swear to God".)

So in the past week or so, since the NYT article that sparked a "buy a frankincense tree"  (and a run on the book that details growing frankincense) among many I know, and the tabloid-type scare article in SciAmer, I'd like to share some more info and photos.  If you'd just landed on this blog post, please search frankincense on this blog, and see the photo of the rather puny sapling I got a few days ago, bareroot and a bit dessicated.  I had to hide it in a drawer so my cat Lulu wouldn't run off with it, she was obsessed with it.  I just planted it today, and there are two new little leaves bursting forth!  This bareroot, scraggly tree is a survivor!

A tree grows in Miami.  Light was fading fast - but I needed to document my little tree's first day potted. Notice heritage oak and pineapples in background, along with jasmine fence.

Blurry closeup of one of the two sprouting green leaves.  I'll get better pictures soon, as I was in a hurry to get this blog post out and didn't notice it was blurry when I snapped it, and now it's dark outside.

Ok, I couldn't wait - I went outside and got this flash shot - I put the tree under the table's umbrella to protect it.

I researched the climate of Oman, you can read about it here.   Water and cold need to be very carefully watched in growing this tree. I'll post images later of the coastal frankincense trees that Trygve sent me, "monsoon" franks, "old lady" franks, and ones that seem to love humidity.

Everyone remember when the vanilla plantations of Madagascar were damaged by hurricanes, a war broke out, and other calamaties affected the stock, and prices soared?  Well, entrepreneurs in India and Indonesia and other countries with similar climates stepped in, planted farms of vanilla, and now we're assured of a steady crop of vanilla from various locales. I predict the same thing will happen with frankincense!

I'm going to get seeds and follow the rather discouraging instructions on their low germination rate.  I'm sure others will follow.

Here are Trygve's photos of a plantation of sacra trees, and her comment:

"These are the UNESCO trees in Wadi Dowka. This is not considered desert in Oman because there are trees. it's the Nejd, which is the area between the desert and the coast.  Although meant to be a gift from God, and therefore not planted, they are.......and a fence erected around to keep out the camels and goats. These giant old friendly trees get no monsoon rains or mists at all, wallah. They might get a little flash flood action. Can't say for sure."

Click to enlarge the photos.  


Please share this blog because not only will it help stop the doom and gloom attitude, but it might actually encourage someone, somewhere in the world, to start growing these gorgeous trees!

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