In the Rim Chronicles, Olive and Gefira travel the known world in search of godspeaker wood, a type of tree whose wood, when burned, gives one “visions from the gods.”
I am fascinated by tree mythology, and want trees to play a prominent part in the fate of the Rim. Thus, I am searching for trees that have mystical, or at least, very important, qualities about them.
Agarwood is one of those trees. Its wood is an increasingly rare material that is native to Southeast Asia. It is referenced in texts from the 3rd century AD, and was probably known of before then.
Ironically, the value of this wood comes from being infected with a parasitic mold that gives it a characteristic dark, resinous, “heartwood” appearance. Infected wood has a “light fruity and floral” or “sweet musk” smell that modern science can imitate, but not replicate. When the mold invades, the tree produces a defensive resin that slows the growth of fungus. It is the resin that gives agarwood its appearance and fragrance, and that makes it so precious–a kilo of quality agarwood can sell for $10,000.
Agarwood is used in carvings, wooden jewelry, and as a favored material for incense. It is one of the materials accepted in the Japanese art of Kōdō, the incense ceremony. It also has more practical uses as a laxative.