Frankincense Is 'Doomed'

Ethiopia's population of the trees that produce it are dying
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2011 9:22 AM CST
Frankincense Is 'Doomed'
Frankincense.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – Gold and myrrh could one day find themselves a duo: Frankincense may soon be extinct. The tree that the perfumed resin is sourced from—boswellia papyrifera—grows mainly in northern Ethiopia ... or traditionally has. Today, as many as 7% of the trees there are dying annually, according to researchers, who also found that seedlings are not maturing. In a paper published today, the researchers explain that in the next 15 years, frankincense production could plummet by as much as half, with only 10% of the scraggly trees surviving over the next 50 years. And that, says a researcher, means "the frankincense population is doomed."

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"There's still some in Somalia, but no one knows how much. The main production area in the world right now is Ethiopia," says the researcher of the trees. The dip is being caused by pressures on the land, reports USA Today: A government effort to move people from the highlands to the lowlands is straining the ecosystem; their cattle eat the saplings, which are also eradicated by fires started to clear the land. And a new system of handling collection contracts—the length of those contracts has dropped from 40 years to as little as two—is causing harvesters to be less concerned with preserving the trees and more interested in squeezing what it can out of them. That heavy tapping in turn makes them more susceptible to deadly longhorn beetle attacks. (Read more frankincense stories.)

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