Boswellia sacra

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Boswellia sacra
Boswellia sacra.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Burseraceae
Genus: Boswellia
B. sacra
Binomial name
Boswellia sacra
  • Boswellia bhaw-dajiana Birdw.
  • B. bhaw-dajiana var. serrulata Engl.
  • B. carteri Birdw.
  • B. carteri var. subintegra Engl.
  • B. carteri var. undulatocrenata Engl.
  • B. undulatocrenata (Engl.) Engl.

Boswellia sacra (commonly known as frankincense or olibanum-tree)[5] is a tree in the Burseraceae family. It is the primary tree in the genus Boswellia from which frankincense, a resinous dried sap, is harvested. It is native to the Arabian Peninsula (Oman, Yemen), and horn of Africa (Somalia).[5]


This species of Boswellia is a small deciduous tree, which reaches a height of 2 to 8 m (6 ft 7 in to 26 ft 3 in), with one or more trunks. Its bark has the texture of paper and can be removed easily. It has compound leaves and an odd number of leaflets, which grow opposite to one another along its branches. Its tiny flowers, a yellowish white, are gathered in axillary clusters composed of five petals, ten stamens and a cup with five teeth. The fruit is a capsule about 1 cm (0.39 in) long. The new leaves are covered with a fine down.

Individual trees growing on steep slopes tend to develop some buttressing that extends from the roots up into the base of the stem. This forms a sort of cushion that adheres to the rock and ensures a certain stability.

Occurrence and habitat[edit]

B. sacra tolerates the most critical situations and often grows on rocky slopes and ravines, up to an elevation of 1,200 m (3,900 ft), mostly in calcareous soil. Boswellia sacra is abundant in Oman in arid woodland, on the steep, precariously eroding slopes in the mountains of Dhofar, but it is most prevalent in Eastern and northern Somalia.[1]

In Somalia, frankincense is harvested in mainly Bari and in east of Sanaag regions: mountains lying at the east of Bosaso; and west to laasqorey; and calmadow mountain range, a westerly escarpment that runs parallel to the coast; also middle segment of the frankincense-growing escarpment; Karkaar mountains or eastern escarpment, which lies at the eastern fringe of the frankinscence escarpment.[6][7]

In Dhofar, Oman, frankincense species grow North of Salalah and were traded in the ancient coastal city of Sumhuram, now Khor Rori.


The trees start producing resin when they are about 8 to 10 years old.[8]

The resin is extracted by making a small, shallow incision on the trunk or branches of the tree or by removing a portion of the crust of it. The resin is drained as a milky substance that coagulates in contact with air and is collected by hand.

Growing conditions vary significantly, affecting both tree development and resin produced. Trees in the narrow fog-laden zone where the desert meets Dhofar mountain range, a region known as the Nejd, grow extremely slowly and produce very high quality resin in large, white clumps. Omanis and other Gulf State Arabs consider this to be superior to all other resins produced in North and Northeast Africa, India, and Asia, and it is priced accordingly.[citation needed] The most widely accepted opinion is that the vast boswellia forests which have existed for millennia in modern day Somalia produce a superior quality resin. Many reports have suggested that there is an existing phenomenon of middle eastern traders reselling the superior Somali product and marketing it as a product grown indigenously in their own respective lands.[9]


There are many initiatives taken by owners of the lands where Boswellia sacra grows, and organizations like the international banks have invested in harvesting new trees and making protection tools for the regions where the trees are mostly growing. It has helped in the increase of production of the resin.

In culture[edit]

According to Greek mythology, the frankincense had once been a mortal woman named Leucothoe. The god of the sun Helios fell in love with her, and left his previous lover Clytie. In bitterness, Clytie informed Leucothoe's father Orchamus who buried his daughter alive. Helios arrived too late to save her, but not wanting to leave her rot underneath the soil, he turned her into an incense tree so that she could still breathe air.[10]



  1. ^ a b Thulin, M. (1998). "Boswellia sacra". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 1998: e.T34533A9874201. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.1998.RLTS.T34533A9874201.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Name - Boswellia sacra Flueck". Tropicos. Saint Louis, Missouri: Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  3. ^ Boswellia sacra was originally described and published in Lehrbuch der Pharmakognosie des Pflanzenreiches. 31. 1867. (as cited in Flückiger & Hanbury's Pharmacographia). Freidrich A. Flückiger; Daniel Hanbury, F.R.S. (1874). Pharmacographia, a history of the principal drugs of vegetable origin, met with in Great Britain and British India. London: Macmilan and Co. p. 120. Retrieved November 24, 2012. Lehrbuch der pharmakognosie Flückiger Boswellia sacra.
  4. ^ "TPL, treatment of Boswellia sacra Flueck.". The Plant List; Version 1. (published on the internet). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden. 2010. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Boswellia sacra". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved November 24, 2012.
  6. ^ Programme, author, War-Torn Societies Project International, Somali (2001). Rebuilding Somalia : issues and possibilities for Puntland. London: HAAN. p. 124. ISBN 1874209049. {{cite book}}: |first1= has generic name (help)
  7. ^ Patinkin, Jason (25 December 2016). "World's last wild frankincense forests are under threat". Yahoo Finance. Associated Press. Retrieved 25 December 2016.
  8. ^ "Omani World Heritage Sites". Archived from the original on 2008-10-12. Retrieved 2009-01-14.
  9. ^ {{cite study › pdfPDF A Case Study of the Frankincense - MDPI}}
  10. ^ Hard, Robin (2004). The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose's "Handbook of Greek Mythology". Routledge. p. 45. ISBN 9780415186360.