The lentisk or Pistacia lentiscus is a shrub or small evergreen tree native to the countries bordering the Mediterranean. It has an erect, very ramified posture, and can reach 4-5 m high and 2-3 m wide; its crown is roundish, and usually has a very short stem, although sometimes it can develop like a sapling.
The bark is reddish; the leaves are composed, formed by 10-12 oval leaflets, of a bright dark green colour, leathery, glossy; by the beginning of spring small flowers bloom at the foliar axil, united in small racemes, of a greenish colour the feminine flowers, darker and tending to the red the masculine flowers; in summer, the flowers give way to the small fruits, some round red berries, which become black when ripe, in winter.
The leaves and branches are intensely perfumed, the resin contained in the bark was used to produce a rubbery mastic since ancient times, called ni greek mastiche, from which derives precisely the Italian word mastic; still today the plant is used in herbal medicine and in the perfume industry.
History and characteristics of lentisk
The Italian name of this tree comes from Latin and means “viscous” in reference, probably, to the liquid that can be obtained.
The Pistacia lentiscus can reach an average of three meters, but in some special cases, especially in the Mediterranean area, it can reach up to 6 meters.
It can be distinguished from other similar plants (such as Pistacia terebinthus) by several peculiar characteristics.
First of all, its leaves are composed of an even number of paripinnate leaves (the pistachio, on the other hand, has an odd number since the leaf ends with a single leaf).
The pedicle is very wide. It is also a plant with persistent foliage and has a cylindrical inflorescence.
The leaves are very narrow and leathery, oval to elliptical in shape and end with a small tip. Two to twelve leaves can be found in a single leaf. Sometimes they can carry a float.
Like other plants belonging to the same family, the mastic is a dioecious plant. This means that there are specimens that carry only female flowers and others only male. In any case, they form rather small racemes that start from the foliar armpit. The individual flowers do not have petals: the male flowers have five small sepals from which emerge five reddish stamens resting on a nectariferous disk. Females, on the other hand, have three or four sepals and a raised ovary.
Flowering generally takes place between the months of March and May and can last several weeks.
The fruit is a small, edible drupe. The diameter is about 5 mm. Initially it is reddish and with time turns to blackish. The seed is identical to that of pistachios and is edible. In some areas (for example in North Africa) it is used in the composition of soups combined, for example, with legumes.
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Plant Lentisk Vase 24cm
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Family and gender
Anacardiaceae, Pistacia, lentiscus
Type of plant
Shrub or tree, 3 to 6 metres high, evergreen
Sunshine, slight shade in the South
Up to -10°C.
It prefers heat over cold
Indifferent, even very poor
Red and then black fruits
Very resistant to drought
From March to May
The mastic needs sunny locations for its best development, but it can bear even the half shade; usually it can bear temperatures close to -10°C, even if in the regions with particularly harsh winters it is best to shelter it with tnt, or to plant it near a wall or other shrubs. It is a plant which absolutely loves direct light and heat. The ideal, therefore, is to insert it in a position placed to the South.
Clearly, this becomes more and more important as its cultivation moves to the northern regions.
If we live on the coasts or islands we can get beautiful specimens with an exposure even slightly shaded. For example, the shadow of the morning is not harmful if in the afternoon the illumination is constant.
this shrub usually doesn’t need watering, although in the summer months, particularly hot and dry, it might be necessary to water every 15-20 days. In the spring and autumn, bury the mature organic fertilizer at the foot of the plant.
to plant in rich, loose and well drained soil; in the wild, the mastic grows in rocky and poor soils; in the garden, it often tends to develop faster than in its origin countries, as it can draw more of the nutritive elements from the soil. The lentisk is a very tolerant plant from this point of view. It adapts to all types of soil, from the poorest and most stony to the richest. It lives also fairly well with clayey and compact substrata.
in spring it is possible to sow the seeds harvested during the winter; if desired, it is also possible to practice semi-woody cuttings in late spring, but usually the lentisk cuttings root with great difficulty.
Pests and diseases
Powdery mildew, mites and cochineal can sometimes attack the plant, especially if it is grown in poorly ventilated areas. It is a rather healthy plant and in nature it is rather autonomous.
It is usually affected by some mites (such as the Eriophyes stephanii) and aphids (Anopleura lentisci). Both these parasites cause the appearance of galls at the expense of the leaves. In particular, the curling foliar limbo is affected.
Its origin can be found in the Mediterranean area of the European, Asian and African continents. It is a typical shrub of the bush. It is particularly common in coastal areas and still prefers low altitudes. Usually it can be found at most up to 600 meters above sea level. It is very common in southern Tuscany and Marche. In Northern Italy it is found practically only in Liguria.
As we have said, it is part of the Mediterranean scrub, together with, for example, the olive tree and myrtle.
The cultivation of lentisk is quite simple. It is in fact a shrub that adapts easily to many different situations. For example, it also tolerates very poor or stony soils very well. For this reason, for example, it is also used to regenerate areas that have been heavily exploited previously or where there is a danger of desertification.
It has also been shown that it is very resistant to fires and is therefore a plant inserted in areas with these problems both to contain them and to revive the natural habitat.
We can say that this is a rather rustic shrub as it is capable of withstanding temperatures even of -10 ° C. It can therefore also be used in Northern Italy, if we exclude the Alpine areas; the important thing is that, at least in the first few years, it is protected with suitable material (for example a double layer of non-woven fabric). The best results will be obtained by placing the specimen in a sunny and very hot area.
Cultivation in pots
If we live in very cold areas we can grow it in a container. It must be rather wide and above all deep. It is very important to create a very thick draining layer on the bottom, perhaps composed of gravel or expanded clay.
This shrub is extremely resistant to drought. As much xerophyte plants is capable of closing the stomata of the leaves to avoid dispersing valuable water. Usually therefore does not need human intervention. In the open land we can limit ourselves to watering once a month during the first two years, especially during the summer. Let’s avoid, however, short waterings with little water.
These favour the growth of superficial roots and make the plant less stable and less resistant in the long run.
The ideal is to water very sporadically while distributing large quantities of liquid. In this way the water will go deep and the plant will be stimulated to grow longer roots and in the future will prove more autonomous, as is usually the case in its natural environment.
Being a plant accustomed to poor substrates usually does not require any kind of fertilization. If we want we can, however, at the beginning of winter, spread around the canopy a good amount of organic soil improver (very mature manure, cornunghia). In the spring it may be sufficient to distribute a small amount of slow release granular fertilizer, which is rather balanced.
During the first years we can prefer one that provides more nitrogen, then any product for fruit plants will do more than well.
It is generally not necessary because it naturally acquires the form that we find in the spontaneous state. However, we can also decide to grow it in the form of a tree. In that case we will have to choose a single jet coming from underground and free it for a certain portion. Above this we will shape the canopy, possibly with an open shape. Lentisk can also be used for formal or informal hedges in the Mediterranean environment.
It tolerates well the cuts also drastic and thanks to the small leaves it can be easily moulded according to our tastes. The most important interventions will have to be done during the first years. The main branches should be truncated to increase the birth of secondary branches and consequently make the shrub thicker and more covering. Afterwards, we will have to intervene only to maintain the forms and eventually eliminate weak, dead or poorly directed branches.
The reproduction of the lentisk can be carried out mainly by seed or by cutting.
Sowing takes place in spring, when daytime temperatures range between 10 and 15 °C. Before starting, however, it is necessary to winterize the seeds by keeping them, for example, in the fridge for at least two months.
However, the most widely used method in nurseries is herbaceous cutting. Usually we proceed in July by taking segments of the year and placing them in a very light compound with a high percentage of sand and agri-perlite. The substrate must always be kept moist and at a temperature of about 20°C, in a shaded area. Usually the rooting is fast and the plants can already be placed in individual containers in autumn and then be moved to the ground the following spring, after the end of the frosts.
Lentisco – Pistacia lentiscus: Uses and curiosities
In the traditional medicine of the countries of the Mediterranean basin the resin of the lentisk (obtained by cutting the trunk) is commonly used to combat diseases of the digestive system and in particular stomach ulcers. Its effectiveness, however, has been confirmed by recent scientific studies, in particular it is capable of fighting the bacterium Heliobacter pylori. One way of carrying out these treatments, however, is through chewing the resin.
It is a very common practice in some islands of Greece.
In some areas and languages this plant is also called the “mastic tree”. In fact, it is used to obtain a gum with a very aromatic perfume and taste. There is evidence that it was already used in ancient times as we do today with chewing gum.
It is also in demand in the confectionery and cosmetics industries.
Lentisk wood has a colour ranging from pink to ochre with beautiful yellow veins. It is used for the realization of small wooden sculptures and also for cabinet-making.
The oil extracted from its fruits has a yellow colour and a very intense perfume. It is used for therapeutic purposes and as an essential oil for massages. Some of its decongestant properties towards the lymphatic system are universally recognized. In Sardinia, where it is very common, its oil was used by the population in the absence of olive oil. It was also used as a lamp oil.
- The lentisk is an evergreen native of the areas that overlook the Mediterranean basin. It can reach about
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