The Liquid Amber Tree or Günlük ağacı in Turkish is an important tree of Fethiye. It once produced a large, valuable and unique export. So what is it and why is it still prized today?
Amber trees are members of the Hamamelidaceae family. They are deciduous and grow in temperate climates and they grow naturally in Turkey, Rhodes, Eastern Asia, South America and Mexico.
Liquidambar Acalycina and Liquidambar Formosana which both come from the Far East are unknown in Turkey.
Known as Liquidambar Orientalis in Latin, the Liquid Ambar tree in English and the Günlük ağacı in Turkish they are located in a few parts of Turkey.
These include a tongue running from Koycegiz to Fethiye in the Muğla Province, Kas, an area near Burdur, Tavas near Denizli, in the provinces of Izmir, in and around the city of Antalya and in Isparta province, near to Sütcüler, there is a protected Amber Forest that, according to the Turkish Forestry Commission, covers some 1,348 hectares.
On average the tree can reach a height of 15 – 20 metres with thick branches and a generous crown. When first seen it resembles the oriental plane tree.
Closer inspection shows the bark is much thicker and has a cracked appearance.
Leaves, which generally have five lobes, are joined to the branches by long stems. The foliage is bright green in spring and summer, then turns yellow, orange or red in autumn before the leaves drop.
The fruits are 2 – 4cm. in diameter, round and contain many seeds.
The translation of the Turkish name “frankincense/myrrh tree “ will give you a clue as to its value and its the sap of the tree where the value lies.
That sap, or ‘balsam’, which can be extracted from the tree, has been used for centuries in products including cosmetics, flavouring for bubble gum, flavour for tobacco, soaps, medicine and more.
The residue from oil production is burned as incense in mosques and churches.
The sap is collected from the trees after small incisions or taps are made in the bark of the tree.
The sweet sap then runs out of the bark as a natural process of healing the wound – see below.
Production of the sap has been in steady decline though.
In 1950 over 180 tonnes was produced in Turkey but that had fallen to 18 tonnes by 1980, 1 tonne by 1990 and in 2006 to just 127 kilograms.
But the tree continues to provide other values such as much needed shade in the summer and beautiful green foliage for our natural environment.