The mastic or Pistacia lentiscus is a shrub or small evergreen tree native to the countries bordering the Mediterranean. It has an erect, very branched growth habit and can reach 4-5 m in height and 2-3 m in width; the crown is rounded, and generally has a very short stem, although sometimes it can develop like a sapling. The bark is reddish; the leaves are composed, consisting of 10-12 oval leaves, bright dark green, leathery, shiny; at the beginning of spring, small flowers gather in racemes at the leaf axilla; the female flowers are greenish in color, the male flowers are darker and tending towards red; in summer the flowers give way to small fruits, round red berries, which turn black when ripe, in winter. The leaves and branches are intensely perfumed, the resin contained in the bark was used to produce a gummy mastic since ancient times, called ni greco mastiche, from which the Italian word mastic derives; even today the plant is used in herbal medicine and in the perfume industry.
History and characteristics of the mastic tree
The Italian name of this tree derives from the Latin and means "viscous", probably referring to the liquid that can be obtained from it.
In general we can say that it is a plant usually of a shrubby form and less frequently arboreal. The Pistacia lentiscus can reach on average three meters, but in some particular cases, especially in the Mediterranean area, it can even reach 6 meters.
It can be distinguished from other similar plants (such as Pistacia terebinthus) for several peculiar characteristics.
First of all its leaves are composed of an even number of paripinnate leaflets (the pistachio, on the other hand, has an odd number since the leaf ends with a single leaf).
The peduncle is very enlarged. 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. In a single leaf, two to twelve can be found. Sometimes they can bring up a surface.
Like other plants belonging to the same family the mastic it turns out to be a dioecious plant. This means that there are specimens that carry only female flowers and others only male. However, they form rather small racemes that start from the leaf axilla. The individual flowers do not have petals: the male ones have five small sepals from which five reddish stamens emerge which rest on a nectariferous disk. The females, on the other hand, have three or four sepals and an elevated ovary. Flowering generally occurs between the months of March and May and can last several weeks.
The fruit is a small, edible drupe. The diameter is approximately 5 millimeters. It is initially reddish and with time turns to blackish. The seed is identical to that of the pistachio nuts and is edible. In some areas (for example in North Africa) it enters the composition of soups in combination for example with legumes.