Pliny the Elder, Natural History (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Plin. Nat.].
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16.8 CHAP. 8.—THE OTHER ACORNS-WOOD FOR FUEL.

The other trees that bear acorns, properly so called, are the

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robur, the æsculus, the cerrus, the holm-oak, [Note] and the corktree: [Note] it is contained in a rivelled calyx, which embraces more or less of it, according to the several varieties. The leaves of these trees, those of the holm-oak excepted, are weighty, pulpy, long, and jagged at the edges, and they do not turn yellow before they fall, as with the beech: they are also longer or shorter, as the case may be.

There are two kinds [Note] of holm-oak: one of them, which belongs to Italy, has a leaf not very unlike that of the olive; some of the Greeks give it the name of "milax," [Note] and in our provinces it is known as the aquifolia. The acorn of these two kinds is shorter and more slender than in the others: Homer [Note] calls it "acylos," and by that name distinguishes it from the ordinary acorn: it is generally said that the male tree of the holm-oak bears no fruit.

The best acorn, and the very largest, is that which grows upon the quercus, and the next to it is the fruit of the aæscu- lus: that of the robur, again, is diminutive, and the fruit of the cerrus has a meagre, wretched look, being enclosed in a calyx covered with prickles, like the outer coat of the chesnut. With reference to the acorn of the quercus, that which grows upon the female tree [Note] is sweeter and more tender, while that of the male is more solid and compact. The acorn, however, of the latifolia [Note] is the most esteemed, an oak so

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called from the remarkable broadness of its leaves. The acorns differ also among themselves in size, and the comparative fineness of the outer shell; as also in the circumstance that some have beneath the shell a rough coat of a rusty colour, while in others a white flesh immediately presents itself. Those, too, are more particularly esteemed, the two extremities of the nut of which, taken lengthwise, are as hard as a stone: and it is considered preferable that this peculiarity should present itself rather in the shell than in the flesh: in either case, however, it only exists in the fruit of the male tree. In some kinds, again, the acorn is oval, in others round; while in others it is of a more pointed form. The colour, too, varies considerably, according as it is blacker or whiter; this last being held in the highest esteem. The extremities of the acorn are bitter, but the flesh in the middle of it is sweet; [Note] another difference, too, consists in the comparative length or shortness of the stalk.

As for the trees themselves, the one that bears the acorn of largest size is known as the "hemeris;" [Note] a small tree with a thick bushy foliage all around it, and often hollowed at the place where the branch is joined to the trunk. The quercus has a stronger wood, and less susceptible of decay: this also is a very branchy tree, but is much taller than the last, while the trunk is considerably thicker. The ægilops, [Note] however, is the highest of them all, and is much attached to wild, uncultivated spots. Next to this in height is the latifolia, but its wood is far from being so useful either for building purposes or for charcoal. When rough-hewn it is very apt to spoil, hence it is that it is generally used in an unhewn state. As charcoal, it is considered only economical in smelting copper; for the moment the workman ceases to blow, the fire dies out, and hence it requires to be repeatedly rekindled; while at the same time it gives out great quantities of sparks. The best

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charcoal is that obtained from the wood of young trees. [Note] Square billets of wood, newly cut, are piled compactly together with clay, and built up in the form of a chimney; the pile is then set fire to, and incisions are made in the coat of clay as it gradually hardens, by the aid of long poles, for the purpose of letting the moisture of the wood evaporate.

The worst kind of all, however, both for timber and for making charcoal, is the oak known as the "haliphlœos," [Note] the bark of which is remarkably thick, and the trunk of considerable size, but mostly hollow and spongy: it is the only one of this species that rots while the tree is still alive. In addition to this, it is very frequently struck by lightning, although it is not so remarkably lofty in height: for this reason it is not considered lawful to employ its wood for the purposes of sacrifice. It is but rarely that it bears any acorns, and when it does they are bitter: no animal will touch them, with the sole exception of swine, and not even they, if they can get any other food. An additional reason also for its exclusion from all religious ceremonials, is the circumstance that the fire is very apt to go out in the middle of the sacrifice when the wood of it is used for fuel.

The acorn of the beech, when given to swine, [Note] makes them brisk and lively, and renders the flesh tender for cooking, and light and easy of digestion; while, on the other hand, that of the holm oak has the effect of making them thin, pallid, meagre, and lumpish. The acorn of the quercus is of a broad shape, and is the heaviest as well as the sweetest of them all. According to Nigidius, the acorn of the cerrus occupies the next rank to this, and, indeed, there is no acorn that renders the flesh of swine more firm, though at the same time it is apt to impart a certain degree of hardness. The same author assures us also, that the acorn of the holm oak is a trying diet for swine, unless it is given in very small quan-

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tities at a time. He says, too, that this acorn is the last to fall, and that the flesh of swine, if fed upon the acorns of the æsculus, the robur, or the cork-tree, will be of a spongy nature.



Pliny the Elder, Natural History (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Plin. Nat.].
<<Plin. Nat. 16.7 Plin. Nat. 16.8 (Latin) >>Plin. Nat. 16.9

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