1. Family: Burseraceae Kunth
    1. Genus: Commiphora Jacq.
      1. Commiphora guidottii Chiov. ex Guid.

        A tree of arid areas, Commiphora guidottii is the source of the oleo-gum-resin known as scented myrrh. The trees are tapped during the dry season by making incisions in the bark. At present, Somalia is the major exporter of scented myrrh.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Believed to be the source of the scented myrrh mentioned in the Bible, Commiphora guidottii is a tree native to Somalia and Ethiopia.

    A tree of arid areas, Commiphora guidottii is the source of the oleo-gum-resin known as scented myrrh. The trees are tapped during the dry season by making incisions in the bark. At present, Somalia is the major exporter of scented myrrh.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Commiphora guidottii is native to Somalia and Ethiopia. It is fairly widespread in Somalia and in adjacent parts of the Ogaden in Ethiopia.

    Description

    A shrub or tree growing up to 5 m tall, scented myrrh has 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.

    Threats and conservation

    Commiphora guidottii grows in arid and often inaccessible areas. No recent assessment has been made of the conservation status of wild populations, but habitat degradation, overcutting of trees for charcoal production, and the expansion of agricultural activities, were all noted as threats to this species when the last assessment was made in 1998. No conservation measures are known to have been taken.

    Uses

    Scented myrrh is a yellowish-red sweet-smelling resin. It oozes from damaged bark of certain trees in the genus Commiphora . The resin gums up the mouthparts of attacking insects, such as termites, and its antibiotic properties protect the trees against infection through wounds in their bark. As with frankincense, myrrh is harvested by making an incision in the trunk of the tree, from which the gum then seeps out.

    The major commercial source of myrrh is the related species Commiphora myrrha , although the myrrh of the Bible is believed to be C. guidottii . Lower grade resin is also obtained from C. habessinica , C. holtziana , C. kua and C. gileadensis (the source of balm of Gilead). 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.

    The resin from C. guidottii is added to cattle feed to improve milk production. Somali people use it to treat stomach complaints, to facilitate the withdrawal of the placenta after childbirth, and for the topical treatment of wounds. The resin from Commiphora species is traded under the names scented myrrh, or opopanax. Confusingly, the name opopanax is also applied to a gum derived from Opopanax chironium (a herb in the carrot family, Apiaceae). Scented myrrh is exported to Europe where it is used in the perfume industry, and to China (which comprises the largest market for this resin). 

    Scented myrrh at Kew

    Pressed and dried specimens of Commiphora guidottii are held in the Herbarium, one of the behind-the-scenes areas of Kew. Details, including images, of some of these can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

    Samples of myrrh oil, gum and resin derived from the related species Commiphora myrrha are held in the Economic Botany Collection.

    Distribution
    Ethiopia, Somalia
    Ecology
    Acacia-Commiphora bushland, associated with gypsum soils.
    Conservation
    Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt) according to IUCN Red List criteria.
    Hazards

    None known for this species, but other Commiphora species can cause allergic skin reactions.

    [FTEA]

    Burseraceae, J.B. Gillett. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1991

    Habit
    Unarmed shrub or small tree up to 5 m. tall; trunk and main branches unusually thick, with a smooth pale silvery greyish brown bark, outer layer peeling off in irregular papery flakes; exudate colourless and odourless; branches tending to bend down, 4–8 mm. in diameter when young.
    Leaves
    Leaves up to 20 cm. long including a petiole of 1.5–10 cm., (1)–3–5(–7)-foliolate, glabrous, puberulous or pubescent, the upper surface often concave with small blisters when mature; leaflets suborbicular, ovate or broadly elliptic, 5–11 cm. long, 3–8 cm. wide, entire; the terminal tapering to the base on a petiolule 1–4 mm. long, the laterals sessile, rounded or cordate at the base.
    Flowers
    Flowers cream or pinkish, appearing with the young leaves.
    Male
    Male flowers in interrupted subspicate panicles 3–5.5 cm. long on pedicels ± 1 mm. long; calyx pubescent, 2–3 mm. long on a saucer-shaped receptacle, the lobes ovate-triangular, as long as the tube; petals sparsely puberulous along the median line, ± 3 mm. long; filaments 1.0 and 0.5 mm., anthers 1.0 and 0.8 mm. long.
    Inflorescences
    Female inflorescences similar but usually rather shorter. Male flowers in interrupted subspicate panicles 3–5.5 cm. long on pedicels ± 1 mm. long; calyx pubescent, 2–3 mm. long on a saucer-shaped receptacle, the lobes ovate-triangular, as long as the tube; petals sparsely puberulous along the median line, ± 3 mm. long; filaments 1.0 and 0.5 mm., anthers 1.0 and 0.8 mm. long.
    Female
    Female inflorescences similar but usually rather shorter.
    Fruits
    Fruit ellipsoid to obovoid, puberulous, ± 13 × 11 × (4 + 5) mm.; pericarp 2-valved, fleshy, up to 3 mm. thick; pseudaril short, fleshy, cupular, very shallowly lobed; stone smooth, with gently convex faces, at first white but perhaps finally black, 7.5 × 4.5 × (1.5 + 3) mm.
    Habitat
    Open Acacia, Commiphora bushland on gypseous soil; 400 m.; rainfall ± 230 mm.
    Distribution
    T3 not yet recorded from Kenya but collected from hills within sight of the K1 border
    [KSP]
    Use
    Medicinal, perfumery, incense, cattle feed.

    Images

    Distribution

    Native to:

    Ethiopia, Somalia

    Common Names

    English
    Scented myrrh

    Commiphora guidottii Chiov. ex Guid. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
    Gillett, J.B. [21938], Somalia K000199665 holotype
    Gillett, J.B. [21938], Somalia K000199666 isotype
    Guidotti, R. [2], Somalia K000199664

    First published in Rivista Ital. Essenze Profumi 13: 232 (1931)

    Accepted by

    • Govaerts, R. (1999). World Checklist of Seed Plants 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. MIM, Deurne.
    • Thulin, M. (ed.) in Thulin, M. (ed.) (1999). Flora of Somalia 2: 1-303. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Gillett, J.B. (1991). Flora of Tropical East Africa, Burseraceae: 1-94.
    • Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (eds.) (1989 publ. 1990). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 3: 1-659. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.

    Literature

    Kew Species Profiles
    • International Centre for Science and High Technology (ICS-UNIDO) (2010). Medicinal and aromatic plants: Commiphora guidotti. (Accessed on 25 November 2010).
    • Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • Thulin, M. (1998). Commiphora guidottii. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4.
    • Andersson, M. et al. (1997). Minor components with smooth muscle relaxing properties from scented myrrh ( Commiphora guidotti). Planta Med. 63:251-4.
    • Thulin, M. & Claeson, P. (1991). The botanical origin of scented myrrh (bissabol or habak hadi). Econ. Bot. 45: 487-494.
    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    • Vollesen in Fl. Eth. 3: 448 (1990).
    • Chiov., Fl. Somala 2: 91, fig. 54, 55 (1932).

    Sources

    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    Herbarium Catalogue Specimens
    'The Herbarium Catalogue, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet http://www.kew.org/herbcat [accessed on Day Month Year]'. Please enter the date on which you consulted the system.
    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

    Kew Backbone Distributions
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2019. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2019. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0