Frankincense yield is related to tree size and resin-canal characteristics

Motuma Tolera*, Ute Sass-Klaassen, Abeje Eshete, Frans Bongers, Frank Sterck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Boswellia papyrifera Hochst. is the most important global source of frankincense. Tree numbers are rapidly decreasing in many populations of B. papyrifera in Ethiopia, where most of the internationally traded frankincense comes from. Improper tapping is among the frequently mentioned reasons for this decrease within populations. We still lack sustainable techniques for frankincense tapping, and these techniques are not yet tuned to individual trees since we are unaware how tree characteristics influence frankincense yield. This study investigates the relationships between different tree characteristics and their relation to frankincense yield. We selected 53 trees and measured frankincense yield and their DBH, tree age, number of leaf apices, radial growth, bark thickness, total resin-canal area, and total number of resin canals in a cross-section. Regression and path analysis were used to unravel cause-effect relationships between tree characteristics and frankincense yield. Frankincense yield was independent of the actual radial growth rate, but increased with increasing total resin-canal area in the bark, stem diameter, tree age, and the number of leaf apices. We show that frankincense yield by trees is not only a simple function of tree size. Remarkably, trees that grew slower over their whole life history produced more frankincense, suggesting an intra-specific trade-off in growth rate and frankincense production. Overall, this study thus shows that frankincense production is the result of complex plant trait networks and long term tree life properties. The results contribute to management regimes that minimize the damage to trees, while maximizing benefits in terms of frankincense yield and can also be used for selection and propagation of trees which are well suited for frankincense production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-48
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Boswellia papyrifera
  • Frankincense
  • Path analysis
  • Resin canals
  • Tapping
  • Tree characteristics


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