Turpentine tree - Pistacia terebinthus - Cornicabra

Turpentine tree – Pistacia terebinthus – Cornicabra

  • English: Turpentine tree
  • Scientific: Pistacia terebinthus
  • Spanish: Terebinto
  • Catalan: Noguereta
  • Portuguese: Cornalheira, Terebinto

The Turpentine tree – Pistacia terebinthus – Cornicabra is a resinous small tree or shrub that is native to the Mediterranean region. In Iberia it is commonly found on limestone areas, occurring more frequently along the Mediterranean coastal line up to an altitude of 1,500m. It is a slow growing tree reaching around 9 metres, although often less.

Turpentine tree - Pistacia terebinthus - Cornicabra

The turpentine tree grows in full sun, being found in open woodland and dry exposed slopes as it also tolerates droughts well.

It is a deciduous tree, turning beautiful shades of yellow, orange or red in autumn. Being dioecious, more than one tree is needed if fertile fruits are to develop. (The male and female flowers are on separate plants.) Flowering in the spring the attractive and aromatic seeds ripen in the autumn. There is little flesh covering individual seeds.

The common English name is derived from the resin that can be tapped from the bark. The name of the resultant gum is Chian or Cyprus turpentine. The resin has traditionally been used in medicine as an antispasmodic and expectorant as well as in treatment for cancer amongst other things. The young leaves can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable as well as the seeds being used to add a spicy flavouring. Oil can be produced by pressing the seeds and the wood is popular for inlay crafting.

Turpentine tree - Pistacia terebinthus - Cornicabra

The common Spanish name is due to the growth of insect galls which are associated with this species. The dried galls from the previous year resemble the horns of goats, “corni-cabra” (image at top of article) . The scientific name for the insect responsible for this long horn shaped gall is Baizongia pistaciae.

There are also aphids which cause galls to form on the leaves of the tree, their scientific name is Forda formicaria and they instigate the formation of crescent-shaped galls on the leaflet margin. Within the gall cloned aphids develop whilst feeding off the host plant.

Turpentine tree - Pistacia terebinthus - Cornicabra
Turpentine tree – Pistacia terebinthus – Cornicabra – leaf galls caused by aphids

This tree is related to Pistacia lentiscus which is a smaller, more shrubby type and also the crop producing tree Pistacia vera (from which come the edible pistachio nuts). Pistacia terebinthus is often used as a root stock onto which Pistacia vera is grafted.

Read about other interesting tree species in Spain here.

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