Resin is a hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, particularly coniferous trees. It is valued for its chemical properties and associated uses, such as the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents; as an important source of raw materials for organic synthesis; and as constituents of incense and perfume.
The term also encompasses synthetic substances of similar properties, as well as shellacs of insects of the superfamily Coccoidea. Resins have a very long history that is documented in ancient Greece Theophrastus, ancient Rome Pliny the Elder, and especially as the forms known as frankincense and myrrh in ancient Egypt. They were highly prized substances, and required as incense in religious rites.
Other liquid compounds found in plants or exuded by plants, such as sap, latex, or mucilage, are sometimes confused with resin, but are not chemically the same. Saps, in particular, serve a nutritive function that resins do not.
There is no consensus on why plants secrete resins. However, resins consist primarily of secondary metabolites or compounds that apparently play no role in the primary physiology of a plant. While some scientists view resins only as waste products, their protective benefits to the plant are widely documented. The toxic resinous compounds may confound a wide range of herbivores, insects, and pathogens; while the volatile phenolic compounds may attract benefactors such as parasitoids or predators of the herbivores that attack the plant.
The word "resin" has been applied in the modern world to nearly any component of a liquid that will set into a hard lacquer or enamel-like finish. An example is nail polish, a modern product which contains "resins" that are organic compounds, but not classical plant resins. Certain "casting resins" and synthetic resins (such as epoxy resin) have also been given the name "resin" because they solidify in the same way as (some) plant resins, but synthetic resins are liquid monomers of thermosetting plastics, and do not derive from plants.
The resin produced by most plants is a viscous liquid, composed mainly of volatile fluid terpenes, with lesser components of dissolved non-volatile solids which make resin thick and sticky. The most common terpenes in resin are the bicyclic terpenes alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, delta-3 carene and sabinene, the monocyclic terpenes limonene and terpinolene, and smaller amounts of the tricyclic sesquiterpenes, longifolene, caryophyllene and delta-cadinene. Some resins also contain a high proportion of resin acids. The individual components of resin can be separated by fractional distillation
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