THE LENTISK – MASTIC TREE (Pistacia lentiscus var.chia)
Τhe Mastiha Tree
Τhe mastic tree or lentisk – scientific name: Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia (of the Anacardiaceae family), is an evergreen shrub, 2-3 metres high that develops very slowly and becomes fully grown after 40-50 years, reaching up to the height of 5 metres at its mature age. Its life span is more than 100 years but it cannot produce mastiha earlier than the fifth or sixth year of its life. It reaches its maximum yield after the fifteenth year. After 70 years of age, its yield regresses significantly. Its average annual yield by tree is 150-180 grams of mastiha, while there are certain rare cases of trees yielding up to two kilos and others that only give 10 grams. Male trees are mostly cultivated because they are more productive. Another considerable factor in terms of yield is the distance separating each tree from its neighbour.
The lentisk is a rather resilient plant with minor demands, that is why it grows well on arid, rocky and poor soil. As its roots are spread on the soil’s surface, it can survive in conditions of absolute drought, but can be extremely sensitive to cold and frost. New cultivations are produced from old trees’ branches (grafts) and the old ones are renewed from offshoots or layers.
Lentisks and similar varieties of this tree family are an essential part of maqui-type vegetation found in Mediterranean countries, but only in Chios tree and nature offer those precious mastiha “tears”.
It is well justified then that Chios is actually identified with mastiha. It is also worth noticing that while there are lentisks all over the island, mastiha is only produced in the southern part of Chios, in the so-called Mastihohora or mastiha villages, where the climate is especially warm and dry. This “uniqueness” is probably due, besides a longtime tradition, to certain soil and weather conditions which favour the mastic tree’s cultivation only in Chios and only in this specific part of the isle.