Ref: ITIS 28806 2002-08-16
The Pistachio tree (Pistacia vera, Anacardiaceae; sometimes placed in Pistaciaceae) is a small tree with deciduous pinnate leaves native to southwestern Asia (Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine). From there, it has spread in cultivation to the Mediterranean region and to California. The apetalous flowers are unisexual and borne in panicles and the plants are dioecious.
One male can pollinate about 12 nut-bearing females. Trees are usually pruned to size but can grow to about 72 cm (30') in height. Males can reach 127 cm (50').
The fruit is a drupe, containing an elongated seed with a striking light green kernel, having a very characteristic flavor. The kernels are used in ice cream, confections such as baklava, and are also eaten whole, roasted and salted. When the fruit ripens, the shells split open partially (see photo). This happens with an audible pop, and legend has it that lovers who stand under a pistachio tree at night and hear the nutss popping open will have good luck.
The shell of the pistachio is naturally a beige colour, but it is sometimes dyed red in commercial pistachios. Originally the red dye was applied by importers to hide stains on the shells caused when the nuts were picked by hand. However most pistachios are now picked by machine and the shells remain unstained, making dyeing unnecessary (except that many consumers expect red pistachios).
Related to the true pistachio tree is Pistacia lentiscus, a shrub or small tree of the Mediterranean region with evergreen pinnately compound leaves. From it is obtained a resin, mastic, which is often chewed by the natives of Turkey. Mastic is used in varnishes and in medicine as a mild stimulant. Another species is Pistacia terebinthus, a native of the eastern Mediterranean countries, which yields China turpentine.