Pistacia is a genus of flowering plants in the cashew family, Anacardiaceae. It contains ten species that are native to the Canary Islands, northwest Africa, southern Europe, central and western Asia, and North America (Mexico, Texas). They are shrubs and small trees growing to 5–15 m tall. The leaves are alternate, pinnately compound, and can be either evergreen or deciduous depending on species. All species are dioecious, but monoecious individuals of Pistacia atlantica have been noted. The genus is estimated to be about 80 million years old. Well known species in this genus include pistachio, terebinth, and Chinese pistache.
Cultivation and uses
Pistacia vera, a small tree best known as pistachio, is grown for its edible seeds. The seeds of the other species were also eaten in prehistory, but are too small to have commercial value today. Records of Pistacia from pre-classical archaeological sites, and mentions in pre-classical texts, always refer to one of these other species (often P. terebinthus).
Pistacia terebinthus, a native of Iran and the western Mediterranean countries, is tapped for turpentine. Pistacia palaestina is a similar species, common in the eastern Mediterranean countries. These trees are both known as terebinth.
Terebinth resin was widely used as a preservative in ancient wine because it has the ability to kill certain bacteria. In the Zagros mountains of Iran, archaeologists discovered terebinth resin deposits from 5400-5000 BC in jars that also contained grape juice residue. It is one of the earliest examples of winemaking.
Pistacia lentiscus, an evergreen shrub or small tree of the Mediterranean region, supplies a resin called mastic.
Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) is grown as an ornamental tree, valued for its bright red autumn leaf colour; it is also the most frost-tolerant species in the genus.
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