Terebinth Tree

Terebinth Tree

Turpentine Tree, Terebinth Tree

Pistacia palaestina Boiss.

A deciduous, dioecious tree with unisexual flowers, the terebinth, which is a type of pistacia, has compound feathery leaves composed of four or five pairs of leaflets, usually ending with a single leaf. Its pods are small and spherical, flattened, weakly kidney-shaped (smaller than al-sarris); the red ones are sterile, while the purple ones have a fully formed seed inside. In spring, terebinth trees blanket the hills in red, for most of the tree’s parts are red in colour. Even in autumn, its leaves have a reddish hue.

A familiar sight when looking at a terebinth tree are the horns that dangle from its branches. The horns are green at first, then turn a beautiful purple, and finally, black. These are not the tree’s seed pods, rather they are galls formed by a particular species of insect. These galls are rich in tannin. As such, they have been used in tanning animal skins along with the inner bark of oak and other plants. These insects are species-specific, so that a different type of insect would affect a specific member of the terebinth family. Thus, the insect that affects the mastic plant (Pistacia lentiscus L.; Arabic: al-sarris), is distinct from the insect that affects the terebinth.

Terebinth is widespread in the mountains of Upper and Lower Galilee, Carmel, Jerusalem, Nablus, Hebron, and the coastal Galilee areas. Alongside oaks, terebinths form a forest cluster. Further, this type of terebinth is one of five wild varieties that grow in Palestine. Al-sarris and the Atlantic terebinth are two others. Some botanists consider terebinth a subspecies classified as P. terebinthus. Terebinths live for hundreds of years. They are usually found as small shrubs due to grazing, but they can reach a great height when protected, as can be seen near some Muslim shrines in Palestine.

Terebinth has many uses. Palestinians use it to make their famous doqqa (a Palestinian thyme mixture). Palestinian farmers used its wood to make farming tools. The wood was also used to produce incense and make implements for grinding coffee. The resinous sap is extracted by tapping the bark. The resin contains turpentine (a name derived from terebinth) which has many uses, including as a paint thinner. The berries were used to treat stomach-ache and toothache. They can also be eaten raw, roasted, or even be used to make a specific type of thin crackers called dakadik or garagish al-butm.


Source: A Garden Among the Hills: The Floral Heritage of Palestine. © The Palestinian Museum 2019