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What is Pistacia?

Angie Bates
Angie Bates

Part of the cashew family, Pistacia is a genus containing 11 species of flowering plants. Mostly native to Europe and Asia, single species of the genus can be found natively in North America and the Canary Islands. Pistacia species may be trees or shrubs and some are used as landscaping trees or for their nuts, commonly called pistachios.

Members of the Pistacia genus are usually deciduous and able to survive in temperatures below freezing. They require bright sunlight and are often drought tolerant. Although they can survive in many soils, they do best in deep, well-drained areas. These plants have gender, and only when both male and female plants are present do trees bear fruit.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Two species, Pistacia lentiscus and Pistacia chinensis are primarily used for decorative purposes. Commonly called a mastic tree, lentiscus is an irregularly shaped evergreen shrub, but can be trained to appear tree-like. The leaves are oblong, about 2 inches (5 cm) long, and form three to five pairs on either side of the stem. Fruits are normally red or black berries. When left as a shrub, this plant is good for hedging, otherwise placement near a patio or a pool is ideal.

The mastic tree also produces a resin that has several medical uses. Called mastic, this resin has been used in dentistry to fill cavities and in surgery as a protective covering for wounds. Since the 13th century, it has been used in some countries to treat upset stomachs, as well as for high blood pressure.

The Pistacia chinensis or Chinese pistachio, is native to China but has been successfully transplanted to other parts of the world. The Chinese pistachio is especially prized for its brilliant red, yellow, or orange leaf coloring in autumn and the natural oval-shaped growth of its branches. The tree grows 25-35 feet (7.6-10.6 m) tall and produces small blue or red fruit. Its flowers are also small and greenish.

Used for commercial pistachio production, Pistacia vera is generally grown in orchards in the southwestern United States. Often called simply a pistachio plant, these trees may be up to 30 feet (9.1 m) tall, with grayish leaves. The nut is actually the seed of the red fruits, which appear on trees in grape-like clusters. The oblong nuts are encased in a ivory colored shell, and in good growing seasons, the shell will naturally split lengthwise before they are packaged and distributed. Pistachio nuts are oil-rich nuts, with 55 percent of their structure actually oil.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Pistacia and where can it be found?

Pistacia is a genus of flowering plants in the Anacardiaceae family, known for its aromatic and often edible seeds. These plants are native to the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, and Central Asia. They thrive in warm, dry climates and are commonly cultivated in these areas for their nuts and resins.

What are the most common types of Pistacia trees?

The most common types of Pistacia trees include the Pistacia vera, known for producing pistachio nuts, and the Pistacia lentiscus, from which mastic gum is derived. Other notable species are Pistacia terebinthus and Pistacia chinensis, which are valued for their ornamental and ecological benefits.

How are Pistacia trees used commercially?

Commercially, Pistacia trees are primarily grown for their nuts and resins. The pistachio nut from Pistacia vera is a popular food item, with global production exceeding 1 million tons annually, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Mastic gum from Pistacia lentiscus is used in culinary, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic products.

What environmental conditions are ideal for growing Pistacia trees?

Pistacia trees flourish in semi-arid conditions with hot summers and cool winters. They prefer well-drained soils and are drought-resistant once established. These trees are not suited for very cold climates and require a long growing season to produce their valuable seeds or resins effectively.

Are there any health benefits associated with Pistacia products?

Yes, Pistacia products, particularly pistachio nuts, are associated with various health benefits. They are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Regular consumption of pistachios has been linked to improved heart health, weight management, and blood sugar control, as noted in studies published in nutrition journals.

Can Pistacia species be grown in home gardens?

Some Pistacia species, like the Pistacia chinensis, can be grown in home gardens as ornamental trees due to their attractive foliage and resilience. However, growing Pistacia vera for nut production at home can be more challenging due to its specific climate requirements and the need for proper pollination to produce nuts.

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