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This species is believed to be the source of the scented myrrh mentioned in the Bible.
Origin and Habitat: Commiphora guidottii is fairly widespread in the Somali Republic and in adjacent parts of the Ogaden in Ethiopia.
Altitude range: 70–1300 metres above sea level.
Habitat and ecology: This species grows in arid and often inaccessible areas in open to dense Acacia-Commiphora-Boswellia rivae bushland on stony slopes, always on gypsum soils. Rainfall about 230 mm per annum. Accompanying species include: Cyphostemma betiforme, Commiphora erosa, Gossypium benadirense, Indigofera gyrata, Reseda gilgiana, Trichodesma hildebradtii and shrubby euphorbias close to Euphorbia kelleri. It is threatened by habitat degradation, overcutting of trees for charcoal production, and expansion of agricultural activities.
ENGLISH: scented myrrh
SOMALI ( Soomaaliga): Hadi (the tree), habak hadi (the gum)
Description: Commiphora guidottii (syn: Commiphora sessiliflora) is an unarmed shrub or tree occasionally to 5 m tall, with greenish or brownish peeling bark. The leaves are composed of 3 or 5-7 leaflets, 2.5 x 10 cm long when fully mature and oval to broadly oval in shape. The flowers are cream in colour and very small, being only a few mm wide at most. The fruit is rounded, about 1 cm in diameter and contains a single stone.
Stem: The bole can be 30-50 cm in diameter with greenish to brownish bark, peeling in small transverse yellowish flakes. The young branchlets are 4-8 mm across almost cylindrical, tending to bend down and only weakly fissured, glabrous to puberulous.
Leaves: (l-)3(-5) foliolate on short-shoots, 3-5(-7) foliolate or pinnate on long-shoots, glabrous, puberulous or pubescent up to 21 cm long including a petiole 0.5 to 10 cm long and a terminal leaflet up to 9 cm long. Leaflets are entire, ovate, to broadly elliptic up to 9 cm long. Leaflets entire, ovate, broadly elliptic or suborbicular, 2.5-11(-15) long 1.5- 8(-9) cm wide, often covered with blisters above when mature. Apex acute to rounded and sometimes apiculate. Plants with 1-foliolate leaves are frequent in the “Las Anod” area. However, in all other characters these plants fall within the variation of C. guidottii, and are include in this species. Also, the Somali name is the same.
Inflorescence: A narrow, contracted, sub-spicate panicles (1.5-)3-5.5(-16) cm long appearing with the leaves.
Flowers: Sessile or short pedicellate (pedicel up to 1–1.5 mm long). Calyx 2-3 mm long, puberulous. Petals cream or white, 2-4 mm long, glabrous to sparsely puberulous. Stamens 8, around 2 mm long.
Fruit: Ellipsoid to subglobose, puberulous, about 10-13 mm long, 7-11 mm wide.Pericarp 2-valved, very fleshy. Pseudaril a basal cup with sinuate margin or with 4 short triangular lobes.
Seed (stone): Ellipsoid, approx. 7 x 5 x 4 mm.
Related species: C. guidottii is closely related to Commiphora omifolia from Socotra, which differs mainly in having a denser indumentum and longer inflorescences.
Notes: The scented myrrh of Bible is probably Commiphora guidotti. It permeates the pages of Solomon's writings with more references than any other Bible author. Song of Solomon has seven references to myrrh. In the sole reference in Proverbs, the harlot refers to her bed as having been sprinkled with "... myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon" (7:17). Myrrh is used in a similar way in Song of Solomon, that is, as a personal perfume with erotic overtones (5:5; 5:13).
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Inga Hedberg, Sue Edwards “Flora of Ethiopia: Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae” National Herbarium, Biology Department, Science Faculty, Addis Ababa University, 1989
2) Mats Thulin “Flora of Somalia: Angiospermaev (Tiliaceae – Apiaceae)” Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1999
3) Kaj Vollesen “Commiphora sessiliflora Vollesen (Burseraceae): A Synonym of C. guidottii Chiov.” Kew Bulletin Vol. 42, No. 3 (1987), p. 686
4) Mats Thulin and Per Claeson “The Botanical Origin of Scented Myrrh (Bissabol or Habak Hadi)” Economic Botany Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1991), pp. 487-494
5) Ib Friis, Michael G. Gilbert and Kaj Vollesen “Additions to the Flora of Ethiopia”, 2 Willdenowia Bd. 16, H. 2 (Mar. 9, 1987), pp. 531-564
6) M. Thulin "Flora Somalia", Vol 2, 1999 [updated by M. Thulin 2008]
7) Thulin & Claeson in Economic Botany 45: 487–494, 1991
8) Henk Beentje, Joy Adamson, Dhan Bhanderi “Kenya trees, shrubs, and lianas” National Museums of Kenya, 1994
9) Symbolae Botanicae Upsalienses: Arbeiten Från Botaniska Institutionen i Uppsala, Volumi 26-28 Olof Ryding, Uppsala universitet 1986
10) “Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith: Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation”, Volume 51 The Affiliation, 1999
11) “Commiphora guidottii (scented myrrh)” retrieved on 23 December from <http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/commiphora-guidottii-scented-myrrh>
Cultivation and Propagation: The scented myrrh (Commiphora guidottii) requires a sunny position and a well-drained soil. The plant can be pollarded or coppiced. The branches easily sprout roots and shoots and makes it a favorite bonsai species amongst bonsai enthusiasts. It is a vigorous grower but plants are sensitive to frost. Quite easily actually, and strangely enough, they are killed more from love than neglect. Over-watering in winter is probably the biggest cause of death with this species. They have very soft wood and if it receives too much water in the dry months can quite easily rot. It does not put out a deep taproot but develops a good network of smaller roots and can be planted in quite shallow pots. From a bonsai point of view, another very desirable feature of this species is its ability to heal from quite drastic surgery. Not only do the scars of a cut close over very quickly, the bark grows remarkably quickly as well, and it takes just a couple of years for it to cover all but the largest of scars, and even these will disappear before too long.
Propagation: By means of seed and cuttings.
Medicinal uses: Scented myrrh (bissabol or habak hadi) is the yellowish-red sweet-smelling resin produced from C. guidottii. In Somalia it is used against stomach complaints, in treating wounds, and as a cleansing agent and to facilitate expelling of the placenta after childbirth.
Other uses: The oleo-gum resin known as scented myrrh is used in perfumery and as an incense. The resin is added to cattle feed to improve milk production. As with frankincense, myrrh is harvested by making an incision in the trunk of the tree, from which the gum then seeps out. The trees are tapped during the dry season by making incisions in the bark. Together with frankincense, myrrh is a common ingredient in the incense used in religious ceremonies. Ancient Egyptians used the gum resin to preserve mummies - its antibiotic qualities reduced decay, as it helped to prevent the tissues falling apart, and it smelt sweetly. C. guidottii was mentioned by Pliny as ‘the scented myrrh,’ and was used by the Romans as incense in temples. At present, Somalia is the major exporter of scented myrrh.
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