Resins are thick hydrocarbon liquids exuded by many members of the plant kingdom including a large number of the world’s tree species. Resins from different tree species vary in form and chemical structure enabling people to harness them for an equally varied number of uses.
Common uses for resins include varnishes, adhesives or, for some of the particularly aromatic resins, incenses.
The mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus, from Greece, may produce the most versatile resin of all. Throughout history it has been used to produce the world’s first chewing gum, part of a holy oil used by the Orthodox Church and a protective layer for film negatives.
Trees vary in their ability to withstand resin extraction and excessive cutting often leads to infection or death of the trees. Sensitive extraction methods, and effective management, can however allow resin tappers and traders to benefit from sustainable resin extraction.
Below we highlight just a few of the many valuable resin producing species facing threats in their native habitat.
Found mainly on the island of Saint Lucia, this tree produces a fragrant resin used by churches throughout the Eastern Caribbean. Harmful tapping methods have decimated the lansan population although new research on optimal tapping methods carried out by the Saint Lucia Forestry Department offers hope for the species.
Application of a sulphuric acid, during tapping, reduces damage to the tree whilst increasing resin yield – offering a potential win-win solution for conservation and livelihoods.
This family of giant trees dominate the forests of Southeast Asia. All dipterocarps produce resins, including a specific group of resins known as dammars. Dammars are used in many products including boat varnish, medicine and incense. From Indonesia alone, between 2000 – 7000 tonnes of dammar are exported worth US $1.6 million.
Unfortunately over 350 trees from the Dipterocarpaceae family are threatened with extinction, as a result of logging and habitat loss, jeopardising the future of these trees and their unique resins.
Agarwood trees,(from the genera Aquilaria and Gonystylus) produce a highly valuable resin used to develop oil as well as finished products such as perfumes, incense and medicines.
A litre of agarwood oil can be sold for over $US10,000 and the huge demand for its resin has led to populations of eight Aquilaria and 15 Gonystylus species declining to a point at which they are categorized as threatened by the IUCN Red List.