Frankincense is Soon to be the Ghost of Christmas Past

holiday tradition, christmas, frankincense, biodiversity, horn of africa, forestsFrankincense burners such as those depicted above could eventually become unnecessary as frankincense supplies dwindle.

We all know the story. The Three Wise Men (Magi) traveled to Bethlehem upon the birth of baby Jesus and laid gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh at his feet. The story is so engrained in the consciousness of Christians that many people burn frankincense in front of nativity scenes during Christmas time in order to relive this collective memory.

But a new study published in Britain’s Journal of Applied Ecology warns that this tradition is at risk of extinction. After studying dozens of Boswellia tree populations in Ethiopia, from which much of the world’s frankincense is derived, scientists predict that within the next 15 years, 50 % of the world’s supply will be lost. And by 2060, 90% of resin that produces the aromatic scent of many Christmases past will be completely sapped.

Even though the Boswellia tree is exceptionally hardy, Frans Bongers, who co-authored this alarming study, told the BBC that “the forests that remain are declining because the old individuals are dying continuously, and there [are] no new individuals coming into the system. That means that the forests are running out of trees.” Oman and Yemen cut down the trees systematically, and in Ethiopia they are being cleared for agriculture.

Fire, grazing, and beetle attacks are other factors putting frankincense at further risk. Are gold and myrrh next?


image via aleutia, flickr

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2 thoughts on “Frankincense is Soon to be the Ghost of Christmas Past”

  1. Thanks for your response. This is wonderful news. Do you have any photos to share? I’d love to do a counter story to this effect.

  2. Fortunately Boswellia is not confined to Ethiopia. In Oman is the acclaimed Boswllia Sacra (Boswell’s Sacred tree); the tree is part of the UNESCO Frankincense Trail World Heritage Sites in Oman and 5,000 have been planted in Wadi Dawqah. Perhaps the story was especially released as a doom and gloom Christmas Tale.

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