Mastic bush - Pistacia lentiscus
by Tony Hall
An evergreen shrub, which has separate male and female flowering plants (dioecious). Occasionally it makes a small tree to around 5-6m, but is more commonly a rounded, thick, bushy shrub to around 3m tall and 2 or 3m wide. The dark- green, aromatic, leathery leaves are alternate and pinnate, with five or six pairs of oval leaflets, lacking a terminal leaflet and with a flat, winged mid-rib.
The individual flowers are almost insignificant, but are produced in dense spike-like clusters along the stems from the leaf axils. It is the red male flowers that are the showiest.The plants are wind pollinated, and once pollinated the female flowers produce rounded fruits with a tiny pointed tip, which start out green, then red, turning black when fully mature. Very occasionally I have found plants with mature white fruits.
Pistacia lentiscus has a wide habitat range and is fairly common from sea level to over 1000m.It can be found growing in mixed woodland, scrub in gravelly soils and rocky limestone, flowering March - May.
It has been cultivated for its aromatic resinfor thousands of years.This is used as a spice and flavouring, and in Roman times as a form of chewing gum! In Greece it is still in culinary use today in drinks, chewing gum and cakes.
Tony Hall, Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, specialising in the plants of Andalucía.