Saturday, 28 July 2012

The involving aroma of seductive Oman

Walking in the charming markets of Oman is not only about what we see, it is much about the scents. Unlike most places I’ve visited in Europe and Asia, in Oman even the Market (Suq in Arabic) has a lovely aroma, leaving a comfortable warm feeling in the air. I could feel this scent everywhere – in the streets, markets, houses, clothes and it is about the best memories I have from this land. Therefore I still keep a wee wooden box filled with Omani frankincense in my room, and whenever I open this box the aroma makes me fly back to Arabia, so I do it several times. And I do also keep a little scented stone on my wallet, just because it’s nice.

Frankincense from Oman

Frankincense is very special and sacred since ancient times, and in the past it was equated to gold in the market. It was used as an offering to gods, and as a medicinal fumigant for diseases and against evil odors. Egyptians also believed that frankincense was the sweat of Gods. Frankincense is also mentioned several times in the Bible, and it has been used to make holy incense used for worship since the time of Moses. In Christianity it is very much known as one of the three gifts to baby Jesus, along with myrrh and gold, representing the divinity of Christ, as it was used as an offering to God.
All that made sense to me, and I do understand the status of divinity associated with this odoriferous resin – frankincense has a unique and magical aroma, leading you to a deep involvement with the place. And it is not to be surprised that it brings so many feelings as it comes from the plant’s own “blood”, carrying along all the purity of its nature. It is much as you have the whole soul of the desert transformed in the sense of smell.

Sap from wild Boswellia sacra. Photo by: Khalid Al Farsi

Frankincense stones are nothing but the dried sap (resin) of Boswellia sacra (Burseraceae), a shrubby tree native to Oman, Yemen and Somalia, growing also in Ethiopia.

Natural habitat of Boswellia sacra, in Omani lands. Photo by: Khalid Al Farsi

Burseraceae is a family belonging to Sapindales, having Anacardiaceae as a sister family. The flowers are small but gorgeous, organized in racemes. Floral structures are simple, not hard to recognize, and they seem to have what well-behaved Rosid is expected to have: five sepals, five petals, 10 stamens arranged in 2 rows of five, a superior ovary and a beautiful and wide nectary disc. The most characteristic structures here are the white broad petals, and the conspicuous fleshy nectaries.

Flowers of Boswellia sacra. Source: Flickr (Scott Zona)
Notice that the first row of stamens (closer to the petal row) is opposite the sepals, and the second row (closer to the gynoecium) is opposite the petals. Sorry for the low quality of the pictures.

I admit that today the story wasn’t much of a flower story, but I felt like introducing you this very special plant that brings along with it a high spiritual feeling. Unfortunately, it seems that the wild population of these trees is declining due to a lower regeneration caused by the early death of the youngs before flowering and thus, seeding. However, it seems that it is not considered to be threatened, according to the IUCN Red List, and we hope that it remains likewise and that the population of Boswellia can grow happy and healthy, inspiring us all with its warm and exotic sense from South Arabia.