Pistacia lentiscus (also mastic; Greek: μαστίχα mastíkha ) is a dioecious evergreen shrub or small tree of the pistacio genus growing up to 4 m (13 ft) tall which is cultivated for its aromatic resin, mainly on the Greek island of Chios.
Pistacia lentiscus is a shrub or dioecious tree, with separate male and female plants, evergreen from 1 to 5 m high, with a strong smell of resin, growing in dry and rocky areas in Mediterranean Europe. It resists heavy frosts and grows on all types of soils, and can grow well in limestone areas and even in salty or saline environments, making it more abundant near the sea. It is also found in woodlands, dehesas (almost deforested pasture areas), Kermes oak wood, oaks wood, garrigue, maquis, hills, gorges, canyons, and rocky hillsides of the entire Mediterranean area. It is a very typical species that grows in Mediterranean mixed communities of myrtle, Kermes oak, Mediterranean dwarf palm, buckthorn, sarsaparilla, etc. and serves as protection and food for birds and other fauna in this ecosystem. It is a very hardy pioneer species dispersed by birds. When older, it develops some large trunks and numerous thicker and longer branches. In appropriate areas, when allowed to grow freely and age, it often becomes a tree of up to 7 m. However, logging, grazing, and fires often prevent its development.
The leaves are alternate, leathery, and compound paripinnate (no terminal leaflet) with five or six pairs of deep-green leaflets. It presents very small flowers, the male with five stamens, the female trifid style. The fruit is a drupe, first red and then black when ripe, about 4 mm in diameter.[dubious – discuss]
In tourist areas, with palmitos or Mediterranean dwarf palm, and exotic plants, it is often chosen to repopulate gardens and resorts, because of its strength and attractive appearance. Unlike other species of Pistacia, it retains its leaves throughout the year. It has been introduced as an ornamental shrub in Mexico, where it has naturalized and is often seen primarily in suburban and semiarid areas where the summer rainfall climate, contrary to the Mediterranean, does not hurt it.
A related species, P. saportae, has been shown by DNA analysis to be a hybrid between maternal P. lentiscus and paternal P. terebinthus (terebinth or turpentine). The hybrid has imparipinnate leaves, with leaflets semipersistent, subsessile terminal, and sometimes reduced. Usually, P. terebinthus and P. lentiscus occupy different biotopes and barely overlap: Mastic appears at lower elevations and near the sea, while the P. terebinthus most frequently inhabits inland and mountainous areas such as the Iberian System.
Pistacia lentiscus is native throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Iberian peninsula in the west through southern France and Turkey to Iraq and Iran in the east. It is also native to the Canary Islands. The word mastic derives either from the Greek verb mastichein ("to gnash the teeth", origin of the English word masticate) or massein
Within the European Union, mastic production in Chios is granted protected designation of origin and protected geographical indication names. Although the tree is native to all of the Mediterranean region, only on southern Chios is the mastic trees' bark scored to "weep" the masticha resin. The island's mastic production is controlled by a co-operative of medieval villages, collectively known as the 'Mastichochoria' (Μαστιχοχώρια), which are also located in the southern part of Chios.
The aromatic, ivory-coloured resin, also known as mastic, is harvested as a spice from the cultivated mastic trees grown in the south of the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, where it is also known by the name "Chios tears". Originally liquid, it is hardened, when the weather turns cold, into drops or patties of hard, brittle, translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum.
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Photos 24/8/2014 by George Konstantinou