Of The Platanus, Lotus, Cornus, Acacia, &c.
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
1. Platanus, that so beautiful and precious tree, anciently sacred to ' Helena, (and with which she crown'd the Lar, and Genius of the place) was so doated on by Xerxes, that AElian and other authors tell us, he made halt, and stopp'd his prodigious army of seventeen hundred thousand soldiers, which even cover'd the sea, exhausted rivers, and thrust mount Athos from the Continent, to admire the pulcritude and procerity of one of these goodly trees ; and became so fond of it, that spoiling both himself, his concubines, and great persons of all their jewels, he cover'd it with gold, gems, neck-laces, scarfs and bracelets, and infinite riches : In sum, was so enamour'd of it, that for some days, neither the concernment of his Grand Expedition, nor interest of honour, nor the necessary motion of his portentous army, could perswade him from it : He styl'd it his mistress, his minion, his Goddess ; and when he was forc'd to part from it, he caus'd the figure of it to be stamp'd in a medal of gold, which he continually wore about him. Where-ever they built their sumptuous and magnificent colleges for the exercise of youth in gymnastics, as riding, shooting, wrestling, running, &c. (like to our French Academies) and where the graver philosophers also met to converse together, and improve their studies, betwixt the Xista, and subdiales ambulationes (which were portico's open to the air) they planted groves and walks of platans, to refresh and shade the Palaestritae ; as you have them describ'd by Vitruvius, lib. 5. cap. 11. and as Claudius Perrault has assisted the text, with a figure, or ichnographical plot. These trees' the Romans first brought out of the Levant, and cultivated with so much industry and cost, for their stately and proud heads only, that great orators and states-men, Cicero and Hortensius, would exchange now and then a turn at the bar, that they might have the pleasure to step to their villas, and refresh their platans, which they would often irrigate with wine instead of water ; crevit & affuso laetior umbra mero : when Hortensius taught trees to tipple wine ; and so priz'd the very shadow of it, that when afterwards they transplanted them into France, they exacted a 2 solarium and tribute of any of the natives, who should presume but to put his head under it. But whether for any virtue extraordinary in the shade, or other propitious influence issuing from them, a worthy Knight, who stay'd at Ispahan in Persia, when that famous city was infected with a raging pestilence, told me, that since they have planted a greater number of these noble trees about it, the plague has not come nigh their dwellings. Pliny affirms, there is no tree whatsoever which so well defends us from the heat of the sun in Summer, nor that admits it more kindly in Winter. And for our encouragement, I do upon experience assure you, that they will flourish and abide with us, without any more trouble than frequent and plentiful watering, which from their youth they excessively delight in, and gratefully acknowledge by their growth accordingly ; so as I am perswaded, that with very ordinary industry, they might be propagated to the incredible ornament of the walks and avenues to great-mens houses. The introduction of this true plane among us, is, perhaps due to the great Lord Chancellor Bacon, who planted those (still flourishing ones) at Verulam ; as to mine, to that honourable gentleman, the late Sir George Crook of Oxfordshire, from whose bounty I received an hopeful plant now growing in my villa : Nor methinks should it be so great a rarity, (if it be true) that being brought from Sicily, it was planted as near us as the Morini.
3. There was lately at Basil in Switzerland, an ancient goodly Platanetum, and now in France they are come again in vogue : I know it was anciently accounted 'tKannroç ; but they may with us be rais'd of their seeds with care, in a moist soil, as here I have known them. But the reason of our little success, is, that we very rarely have them sent us ripe ; which should be gather'd late in Autumn, and brought us from some more Levantine parts than Italy. They come also of layers abundantly, affecting a fresh and feeding ground ; for so they plant them about their rivulets and fountains. The West-Indian plane is not altogether so rare, but it rises to a goodly tree, and bears a very ample and less jagged Ieaf : That the Turks use their platanus for the building of ships, I learn out of Ricciolus Hydrog. 1. to. c. 37. and out of Pliny, canoos and vessels for the sea have been excavated out of their prodigious trunks.
4. The same opinion have I of the noble lotus arbor, (another lover of the water) which in Italy yields both an admirable shade, and timber immortal, growing to a vast tree, where they come spontaneously ; but its fruit seems not so tempting as it is storied it was to the companions of Ulysses : The first who brought the lotus out of Virginia, was the late industrious Tradescant. Of this wood are made pipes, and wind-instruments, and of its root, hafts for knives and other tools, &c. The offer of Crassus to Domitius for half a dozen of these trees, growing about an house of his in Rome, testifies in what esteem they were had for their incomparable beauty and use.
The cornell tree, though not mention'd by Pliny for its timber, is exceedingly commended for its durableness, and use in wheelwork, pinns and wedges, in which it lasts like the hardest iron ; and it will grow with us to good bulk and stature ; and the preserv'd and pickl'd berries, (or cherries rather) are most refreshing, an excellent condiment, and do also well in tarts. But that is very old, which Mathiolus affirms upon his own experience, that one who has been bitten of a mad-dog, if in a year after he handle the wood of this tree till it grow warm, relapses again into his former distemper.
The same reported of the cornus femina, or wild cornel ; which is like the former for compactedness, and made use of for cart-timber, and other rustick instruments; besides, for the best of butchers skewers, tooth-pickers, and in some countries abroad they decoct the berries, which press'd, yield an oyl for the lamp.
Lastly, the acacia, and that of Virginian, deserves a place among our avenue trees, (could they be made to grow upright) adorning our walks with their exotic leaf, and sweet flowers ; very hardy against the pinching Winter, but not so proof against its blustring winds ; though it be arm'd with thorns: nor do the roots take such hold of the ground, insinuating, and running more like liquorish, and apt to emaciate the soil ; I will not therefore commend it for gardens, unless for the variety ; of which there are several, some without thorns : They love to be planted in moist ground.
One thing more there is, which (for the use and benefit which these and the like exotics afford us) I would take hold of, as upon all occasions I do in this work : Namely, to encourage all imaginary industry of such as travel foreign countries, and especially gentlemen who have concerns in our American plantations, to promote the culture of such plants and trees (especially timber) as may yet add to those we find already agreeable to our climat in England. What we have said of the mulberry, and the vast emolument rais'd by the very leaves, as well as wood of that only tree (beside those we now have mention'd, strangers till of late, and believ'd incicurable here,) were sufficient to excite and stir up our utmost industry. History tells us, the noble and fruitful countrey of France, was heretofore thought so steril and barren, that nothing almost prospering in it, the inhabitants were quite deserting it, and with their wives and children going to seek some other more propitious abodes ; till some of them hapning to come into Italy, and tasting the juice of the delicious grape, the rest of their countreymen took arms, and invaded the territories where those vines grew ; which they transplanted into Gallia, and have so infinitely improv'd since, that France alone yields more of that generous liquor, than not only Italy and Greece, but all Europe and Asia beside : Who almost would believe that the austere Rhenish, abounding on the fertile banks of the Rhine should produce so soft and charming a liquor, as does the same vine, planted among the rocks and pumices of the so remote and mountainous Canaries ?
This for the encouragement and honour of those who improve their countries with things of use and general benefit : Now in the mean time, how have I beheld a florist, or meaner gardener transported at the casual discovery of a new little spot, double leaf, streak or dash extraordinary in a tulip, anemony, carnation, auricula, or amaranth ! cherishing and calling it by their own names, raising the price of a single bulb, to an enormous sum ; till a law in Holland was made to check that tulipa-mania : The florist in the mean time priding himself as if he had found the elixir, or perform'd some notable atchievement, and discover'd a new countrey.
This for the defects, (for such those variegations produc'd by practice, or mixture, mangonisms and starving the root, are by chance met with now and then) of a fading flower : How much more honour then were due in justice to those persons, who bring in things of much real benefit to their countrey ? especially trees for fruit and timber ; the oak alone (besides the shelter it afforded to our late Sovereign Charles the IId) having so often sav'd and protected the whole nation from invasion, and brought it in so much wealth from foreign countries. I have been told, there was an intention to have instituted an Order of the Royal-Oak ; and truly I should think it to become a green-ribbon (next to that of St. George) superior to any of the romantick badges, to which abroad is paid such veneration, deservedly to be worn by such as have signaliz'd themselves by their conduct and courage ; for the defence and preservation of their countrey. Bespeaking my reader's pardon for this digression, we proceed in the next to other useful exoticks.