Tetraclinis

Tetraclinis

Tetraclinis is a genus of evergreen coniferous tree in the cypress family Cupressaceae, containing only one species, Tetraclinis articulata, also known as Sandarac, endemic to the western Mediterranean region. It is native to northwestern Africa in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, with two small outlying populations on Malta, and near Cartagena in southeast Spain. It grows at relatively low altitudes in a hot, dry subtropical Mediterranean climate.

Its closest relatives are Platycladus, Microbiota and Calocedrus, with the closest resemblance to the latter. In older texts, it was sometimes treated in Thuja or Callitris, but it is less closely related to those genera.

It is a small, slow-growing tree, to 6–15 m (rarely 20 m) tall and 0.5 m (rarely 1 m) trunk diameter, often with two or more trunks from the base. The foliage forms in open sprays with scale-like leaves 1–8 mm long and 1–1.5 mm broad; the leaves are arranged in opposite decussate pairs, with the successive pairs closely then distantly spaced, so forming apparent whorls of four. The cones are 10–15 mm long, green ripening brown in about 8 months from pollination, and have four thick scales arranged in two opposite pairs. The seeds are 5–7 mm long and 2 mm broad, with a 3–4 mm broad papery wing on each side.

It is one of only a small number of conifers able to coppice (re-grow by sprouting from stumps), an adaptation to survive wildfire and moderate levels of browsing by animals. Old trees that have sprouted repeatedly over a long period form large burrs at the base, known as lupias.

Uses and symbolism

It is the national tree of Malta, where it is known as Għargħar (derived from the Arabic name Araar). It is now being used locally in afforestation projects.

The resin (sandarac) is used to make varnish and lacquer; it is particularly valued for preserving paintings.

The wood, particularly from burrs at the base of the trunk, is used for decorative woodwork. Use of the burr wood kills the tree. The market in Morocco is unsustainable, focussing as it does on the burr, and has resulted in mass deforestation of the species. The species is also threatened by overgrazing, which can kill the coppice regrowth before it gets tall enough to be out of the reach of livestock.

The species has also been used in Bonsai. It is grown as an ornamental tree, valued in hot, dry climates; it can be trimmed as a hedge.

References

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