Boswellia sacra

Accession Count: 3
Common Name: frankincense
Family Name: Burseraceae
Botanical Name: Boswellia sacra
Botanical Synonyms: Boswellia carteri
Sub Species:

Boswellia sacra is a small tree or large shrub that grows up to 20 feet tall. It can be 

single or multi-stemmed and has branches distinguished by peeling, papery bark (1). Dark
green compound leaves grow in clusters at the tips of branches. Flowers, borne
in crowded axillary inflorescences, have five cream-colored petals, 10 stamens,
and a nectar disk surrounding the ovary (1). The fruit is a capsule that releases its seeds through 3-5 valves (1). The smooth bark produces an aromatic
resin when cut.

Compound: Bos sac
Geographic Origin: Northeastern Africa
Ecozone Origin: Afrotropic
Biome Origin:
Natural History:

B. sacra is native to
Ethiopia and Somalia in eastern Africa and to Oman and Yemen on the Arabian
Peninsula. It thrives in the coastal climate of southern Arabia, where summer
fogs blanket the region (1). Since ancient times, the plant has been revered
for the resin exuded by its bark. Today, frankincense resin is still harvested,
but forests are in decline due to over-tapping, which reduces plant fertility,
and to over-grazing, which prevents new plants from replacing aging ones
(telegraph). Farmers are also changing to more profitable crops, reducing the 

plant's distribution (2). It is presently considered a plant of near-threatened status (3).

Cultivation Notes:

The frankincense plant grows best in warm climates. It favors rocky,
well-drained, calcareous soils. Regular watering will benefit the plant.
Frankincense can be grown in pots and brought inside to protect it from
freezing temperatures.


Frankincense has been used for thousands of years as a source of
incense. Its value as incense made the resin very expensive in ancient times, as
indicated by the story of the wise men who brought frankincense, along with gold 

and myrrh, to the newborn Jesus. In addition, frankincense has medicinal uses,
especially for digestive and respiratory problems (1). The resin is also used
extensively in cosmetics and other beauty aids.

Height: 16 - 20 feet
Width: 16 - 20 feet
Growth Rate: Slow Growing
Grow Season: Summer
Flower Season: Spring
Color: Cream
Function: Patio
Spread: Non-spreading
Allergen: Non-allergenic
Invasive: Benign
Toxicity: Toxic
Hardy: Tender
Water Use: Low water Use


1. “Boswellia sacra (frankincense).” Kew Botanical Gardens. Accessed November 15, 2016.

2. Cumming, E. “What will save the frankincense tree?” The Telegraph. December 23, 2012. Accessed November 15, 2016.

3 “Boswellia sacra.” International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.  Accessed November 15, 2016.


Boswellia sacra