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Growing Pistacia lentiscus: Mastic Tree

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Description
Form: A shrub, normally wider than tall. Some cultivars can be pruned into a small tree.
Lifespan: More than 100 years. The 'Chia' variety of this plant begins to produce mastic at age 5 or 6, reaches its maximum productivity at 15 years, and decreases significantly after 70 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: Usually 10' high but can achieve 15-25' high and 20-30' wide under favorable conditions.
Flowers: Very small, clustered, with separate male (white and red) and female (greenish) flowers on different plants. They are wind pollinated and most female flowers drop without producing fruit or develop fruit without seeds.
Bloom: Spring.
Fruit: Small, clustered, red fruit, turning black when ripe, appear on female plants when a male plant is present. A thin layer of untasty flesh covers a hard shell containing one seed.
Leaves: Lance shaped to oval, leathery dark green leaflets, with narrowly winged stalks, in groups of 2-5 pairs. New leaves are yellow-green.
Stems: Flexible, no thorns. New stems are reddish, becoming gray or brown with age. The resin, called mastic when dried, is harvested by putting small cuts on the bark, not into the wood, of main branches and trunk, and allowing it to ooze out. The very sticky, slightly sweet resin takes 2-3 weeks to dry, concentrating the flavor and becoming non-sticky. It then falls off in small hardened drops onto a prepared surface. Male plants are considered more productive than female plants for this purpose.
Roots: Deep and wide. The flexible root network is shaped by irrigation practices.
Wildlife: The fruit attract birds.
Toxic / Danger: No.
Origin: Mediterranean. The southern part of the Greek island of Chios, with its hot dry climate, is the primary source of mastic for Europe. The variety Pistacia lentiscus 'Chia', the island native, has been cultivated and harvested for mastic over thousands of years.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 9-11.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: All day full sun.
Planting: Locate this plant in very well draining soil in an area that receives full sun all day and is large enough to accommodate its eventual width. It can be grown in a large container that will restrain its size.
Soil: This plant is very tolerant of well draining, dry, rocky soil types, especially those that have low organic content and are alkaline. It is salt tolerant. Fertilization is unnecessary.
Water after becoming established: Deep water every 1-4 weeks in summer and every 4 weeks in winter, allowing for rain. Once established, this plant can go unwatered for a month any time of year while its owners are on vacation.
Mulch: Not necessary if deep watering has been employed.
First Year Care: Do not fertilize.
Prune: Lightly trim to shape in winter if desired. Most cultivars tend to be spreading. Severe pruning to shape is not recommended.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Seed scarified and washed; woody cuttings taken in winter and treated with Indole-3-butyric acid potassium salt to spur root formation.
Uses: Ornamental, screen. The edible dried resin (mastic) is used as a baking spice. Cookies and sweets from Arabic countries get some of their unique flavors from mastic. It softens when chewed, so it is used as a chewing gum and breath freshener.

Comments
This plant is a member of the Cashew and Sumac family (Anacardiaceae).



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Latest update: July, 2021.

Pistacia lentiscus: Mastic Tree leaves

Pistacia lentiscus: Mastic Tree in container

Pistacia lentiscus: Mastic Tree shrub form
Pistacia lentiscus as a large shrub.

Pistacia lentiscus: Mastic Tree resom oozing from bark
The resin, which oozes from small cuts in the bark, is clear at first, then turns opaque.

Pistacia lentiscus: Mastic Tree
Pistacia lentiscus in tree form. A horizontal limb is allowed to grow long and large to facilitate mastic harvest.