The lansan tree is found only on the Windward Islands of Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Saint Lucia. Its main stronghold is the island of Saint Lucia, where the tree plays a vital ecological, economic and cultural role. The species accounts for a significant proportion (up to 10% in places) of the island’s remaining rainforest cover, and its fleshy fruit is a vital food source for native wildlife. Like other members of the incense tree family, lansan produces an aromatic resin. This is highly prized by Saint Lucians, particularly for use as slow-burning incense in household shrines and churches, and is also traded overseas, providing a vital revenue stream for some of the poorer members of society.
Incense of the Caribbean
Lansan tree facts
- The lansan tree is a distant relative of the gum trees that produce frankincense
- The word lansan is derived from the French l’encens, meaning incense
- As well as being widely used in religious ceremonies, the highly aromatic resin is also used to repel mosquitoes and – it is believed – evil spirits
- Lansan trees grow on soils of volcanic origin
- The species is declining throughout its range
The lansan tree is almost certainly extinct in three of the seven island states where it originally occurred.
60%The estimated reduction in the global lansan population within the past decade.
60%The percentage of Saint Lucians who use lansan resin.
Lansan resin is traditionally extracted by slashing the bark of the tree, but indiscriminate use of this method often causes irreparable damage; trees are susceptible to infection and rotting if they are tapped excessively. Unregulated tapping of trees, compounded by agricultural expansion, has led to dramatic declines in lansan populations throughout the Eastern Caribbean. The lansan tree has lost at least 60% of its original range as a result of overexploitation and deforestation. It is believed to have disappeared completely from Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, although reintroduction is feasible in the latter two countries.
How FFI is helping to save the lansan tree
At the request of the Saint Lucia Forestry Department, FFI began working to ensure the long-term survival of the species and find ways to safeguard this iconic tree without compromising the economic and cultural benefits afforded by its valuable resin.
A three-year experimental study undertaken by FFI, forestry staff and volunteers from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust not only confirmed that traditional harvesting methods quickly kill the trees, but also led to the discovery of a new method for extracting resin that is more productive and less detrimental to the health of the trees.
Tappers are now being trained in the new, safer extraction method and licensed to harvest the resin from specific areas approved by the forestry department. It is hoped that in future there may be considerable scope to create job opportunities related to the sustainable harvesting of this renewable resource. This could include, for example, marketing Saint Lucian frankincense candles, toiletries and other products.
Global Trees Campaign
Today, over 10,000 tree species are threatened with extinction, with more than 1,900 species listed as critically endangered. Find out how FFI is working to conserve our planet's threatened trees.