KIBBUTZ KETURA, ISRAEL – Seven years after I revealed her success in sprouting a 2,000 year-old date palm seed found on Masada, botanist Dr Elaine Solowey of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies has done it again.
1,500 years after the last frankincense tree disappeared from the Holy Land, Dr Solowey has managed to grow the first shoots of a tree whose scented white sap was once worth more than gold.
At Kibbutz Ketura deep in Israel’s Negev Desert, Dr Solowey is carefully nurturing the fragile sapling in her greenhouse, where she is also growing myrrh and balm of Gilead – probably the “gold” brought by the Three Wise Men to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem.
“This is the first frankincense tree to set seed in Israel in 1500 years,” Dr Solowey told me as she presented the tiny sapling for its first public photo-call this week. “It was necessary to bring this variety back to the country because the last people growing these trees near the Dead Sea left and the trees left with them.”
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