Boswellia sacra


Boswellia bhaw-dajiana
Boswellia bhaw-dajiana var. serrulata
Boswellia carteri
Boswellia carteri var. subintegra
Boswellia carteri var. undulatocrenata
Boswellia undulatocrenata


Boswellia sacra is native from East Africa, in particularly from an area including northern Somalia, Ethiopia, southern Yemen and southern Oman. It’s widespread also in the Southern coast of Arabian Peninsula. Its habitats are mainly the semi-desertic areas, where this tree grows on limestone slopes. In southern Arabia, Boswellia sacra grows in slopes of coastal mountains always perennially covered in fog, where a typical ecoregion called “fog oasis” occurs, rich in flora although being located in a desert region.
Boswellia sacra is Near Threatened (NT) according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list for Yemen, Oman and Somalia. This happens mainly because of the massive use of land for pastures: young trees are dramatically browsed by herbivores. Also logging for conversion of natural areas in cultivated ones and for firewood is an important cause of the reduction of the habitat of this plant.


Boswellia sacra is a deciduous tree 2-8 meters tall, composed of one or many trunks which branch out at a short distance above the ground. The entire plant is really resinous, especially in its papery, peeling bark: it is the source of the legendary incense brought to the baby Jesus from the “three wise men”. Leaves are compound, divided in leaflets. Flowers develop from axillary buds and are grouped in racemes (clusters). They have five white petals. Fruits are capsules opening in 3 or 5 valves.


Boswellia sacra needs a well-drained soil and hot temperatures, as it comes from hot, semi-desertic areas. Better to cultivate it an a clay pot rather than in plastic: the plant will grow better. It can bear intense sunlight, so you can put it in a bright or semi-bright spot. Water it seldom, just when the soil dries up. Its growing season occurs in summer. In winter, water should be avoided, or at least reduced to once a month. Try to protect this plant from frost.


Propagation by seeds is usually difficult.


Boswellia sacra is the source of the oleo-gum resin called frankincense, the incense brought from the “Three wise men” to baby Jesus. Trade in frankincense is 4000 years old. Frankincense has always been used in rituals and to cure respiratory and digestive disease, having also anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It is extracted from the plant making incision in the bark of lower branches. The incense is produced just after the plant is 10 years old.

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