Another very long entry.
Of trees. The word for trees, arbores, and grasses, herbe, is believed to come from arva, a field, because they adhere to the earth with their roots which lie fast within it. The two words are almost the same, because one springs from the other. For when you throw a seed into the earth, first a grass shoot rises. Thereafter, with nourishment, it grows into a tree and within a short time, from looking down at shoot of grass you are looking up at a sapling.
The word arbusta is, as it were, arboris hasta, ‘the shaft of the tree’; the word arbustum is taken by others take it to mean ‘plantation’, a place where there are trees; as salictum and salicta, and turecta mean places where there are willows and small trees, young and turning green. A shrub, frutex, is small and is so called because puts forth leaves and covers, tegere, the ground; the plural form is frutecta.
A wood, nemus, gets its name from numina, deities, because the heathen consecrated their idols there; for woods contain large trees, whose boughs give deep shade. A tall thicket of trees, lucus, is so called because it springs to a great height, rising to the sky. Grafting, insitio, is said to take place when a shoot from a fertile tree is implanted, inserere, into a cut made in the trunk of a barren tree. Cuttings, plante, are taken from trees. But sets, plantaria, are those which are grown from seed with roots and are subsequently transplanted from the soil in which they were grown.
The root, radix, is so called because it is fixed deep in the ground as if by stakes, radius. Indeed, scholars of natural philosophy say that the depth of the root is equal to the height of the tree. The trunk is the vertical part of the tree, based on the root. The ancients called cortex, bark, corux; the word cortex itself comes from the fact that bark covers the tree like a hide, corium. The inner part of the bark, liber, so called because the bark is freed, liberatus, from it, that is, stripped away. For it is a buffer between the wood and the bark.
Branches are what spread forth from the trunk, as twigs from the branches. Twigs, surculi, are so called because they are pruned with a saw, serra. The word virgultum refers to the thin twigs which sprout from the root. The branch springs from the trunk. The twig, virga, from the branch. The word virgultum is used correctly, however, because it means the twigs which grow at the root and are cut off by farmers as if they were useless; they are so called because they are removed from the other twigs. The word virga comes from strength, virtus, because a branch is very strong, or from its green colour, viriditas, or because it is a sign of peace, because it turns green with leaves, a symbol of growth.
Magicians use them to calm snakes fighting amongst themselves, supporting them coiled around the branch; philosophers, kings, magistrates, heralds and ambassadors use them for this purpose.
The highest parts of the tree are called flagella, whiplashes, because they catch repeated gusts of wind. Foliage, cime, is so to say, come, hair. Leaves, folia, in Latin, are sylia in Greek; the Latin word has come down to us by derivation from the Greek. Blossom, flores, is so called because it is dispersed quickly from the trees, like currents in a stream, fluor, which quickly dissipate. Blossom has a twofold charm – its colour and its scent. For it is stripped off by the south wind and is brought to flower by the wind of the west. A shoot ready to flower, we call gramen; the word comes from generare, to beget, which also gives us generatio.
Fruit, fructus, get its name from frumen, the larynx, that is, the projecting part of the throat, with which we eat; fruges comes from the same source. Properly speaking, ‘fruit’ means in particular the produce of fields and trees which we use. But it is also applied, improperly and by transference, to animals. Apple, pomum, comes from opimus, rich, referring to its abundance. Things are said to be ripe, maturus, because they are then suitable for eating. Wood in its various forms, ligna, is so called because when it is kindled they are turned into light, lumen; wood is also called lignus because it gives light. The word for a burning brand of wood is torris; it is commonly called titio, when it lies partly burned and cold on the hearth. Quisquilie is the word for the mixture of stalks, withered shoots and dead leaves; they are the sweepings of the trees.
Of the particular names of trees The palm, palma, is so called because it adorns the victorious hand, or because its branches are spread out in the manner of the palm of man’s hand. For the tree is the symbol of victory; it bears long and beautiful branches, and is clad in long-lasting foliage, which it keeps without any replacement. The Greeks call this tree ‘phoenix’, because it lasts a long time, taking the name of the bird of Arabia, which is said to live for many years; the fruits of the palm are called dactilia, from their resemblance to fingers.
The laurel, laurus, comes from the word laus, praise, for the heads of the victorious were crowned with laurel. In fact, among the ancients, laurels were called laudea. Later the letter D was removed and replaced by R, so that it was called laurus, as in the words auricule, which was originally audicule, and medidies, now called meridies. The Greeks call the laurel daphne, because it never loses its greenery; that is why it was preferred as a crown for the victorious. It is commonly believed to the only tree which is never struck by lightning.
The apple-tree, malus, was so called by the Greeks because its fruit was rounder than any other. From this comes the belief that real apples are those which are exceedingly well-rounded. The tree known as malomellus is so called from its sweetness, either because its fruit has the taste of honey, mel, or because it is preserved in honey. The Punic apple, malum punicum, is so called because its species was imported from the area of Carthage, Punicus. It is also called the seeded apple, malum granatum, because it contains, within the sphere formed by its skin, a large quantity of seeds, granum.
Of the fig tree The fig tree is so called from its fruitfulness, fecunditas, for it is more fruitful than other trees, bearing fruit three or four times in a single year, one crop ripening as the other appears. For this reason the figs known as carice are so called because of their abundance. The Egyptian fig tree is said to be more fruitful. If you throw its wood into water, it sinks right down; when it has lain on the mud for some time, then it is born up to the surface, contrary to nature, since like any waterlogged object, it should have remained at the bottom, held down by the weight of the water. It is said that when old people eat figs frequently, their wrinkled skin fills out. They say, too, that if you gather the fiercest bulls at the foot of a fig tree, they suddenly become docile.
Again of trees The mulberry tree is called morus by Greeks; in Latin it is called rubus, because its fruit or its branches are red in colour. There is a wild species which bears fruit, which shepherds in the wilderness use to assuage their hunger and need. It is said that if you throw its leaves on a snake, you will kill it.
Again of trees The sycamore, sicomorus, like morus, has a Greek name. It is so called because its leaf is like that of a mulberry tree. In Latin it is called celsa, from its height, because it is not short like the mulberry. The nut tree, nux, is so called because its shadow or the moisture that drips from its leaves does harm, nocere, to neighbouring trees; it has another Latin name, juglans, ‘Jove’s nut tree’, so to speak, for this tree was consecrated by name to Jupiter. Its fruit is so strong that, set amid dishes of vegetables or mushrooms thought to be poisonous, it expels their poison in liquid form, draws it off and renders it harmless.
Again of nut trees The word ‘nuts’, nuces, is generally applied to all fruit with a fairly hard shell like pine nuts, filberts, chestnuts and almonds. For this reason they are also called nuclei, because they are covered with a hard shell. In contrast, however, all fruit with soft skins are called mala, adding the place where they originated, like Persica, from Persia, a peach; Punica, from Carthage, a pomegranate; Mattiniana, Matian, a crab-apple. The word for almond, amigdala, is Greek; in Latin it is nux longa, ‘long nut’. For of all trees, the almond is the first to blossom and produces its fruit before other trees. In Latin the chestnut, castanea, is called by its Greek name. It is so called because its twin fruits are concealed within a pod like testicles. When they are expelled from the pod, it is as if they were castrated. As soon as this tree is felled, it grows again, just like woodland trees.
The word for oak, ilex, comes from electus, chosen. For the fruit of this tree was the first to be chosen by men for food. In this context, the poet says: ‘The first mortals belched the nut from their throats’; for before the ancients used corn for food, they lived on nuts. Again The beech tree, fagus, and the Italian oak, esculus, both nut-bearing trees, get their names, it is said or at any rate believed, because men formerly existed on their fruit, using them for their own food and for fodder. For esculus comes from esca, food; while fagus is a Greek word, for fagein in Greek means ‘to eat’. The carob tree, cilicicon, is corrupted in Latin to siliqua. It got its Greek name because the fruit of its wood was sweet. For xilon is ‘wood’ in Greek and ilicon, ‘sweet’. The juice pressed from its fruit is called in Greek acacia.
Again The pistachio tree is so called because the shell of its fruit gives forth the scent of pure nard. The pitch-pine gets its name from its pointed leaves, for the ancients used the word pinnus to mean ‘pointed’. The Greeks called one kind of pine possis, another peuce; we call it picea, because it oozes resin, pix. In the islands of Germany the ‘tears’ of this tree produce amber. For the sap, flowing down, solidifies, either in the cold or by the passage of time, and creates a precious stone, which gets its name, sucinum, amber, from its nature, because it is the juice, sucus, of the tree. The pine is thought to be beneficial to everything that grows beneath it, just as the fig tree does harm to everything. Again The fir tree, abies, is so called because it grows higher than other trees and stands high above them. It is characterised by the fact that it contains no earthly fluid and is accordingly considered easy and light to work. Some call it ‘Gallic’ because of its white colour. It has no knots in it.
Again The cedar, cedrus, is the tree which the Greeks call cedros. Its leaves resemble those of the cypress. Its wood, however, has a pleasant scent which lingers for a long time and can never be destroyed by worms. For this reason – its durability – temple ceilings are made of cedar wood. The resin of this wood is called cedria and is so good for preserving books that when their binding is smeared with it they do not suffer damage from worms and they do not decay with the passage of time.
Again The cypress is so called in Greek because its head rises from a round base to a point. For this reason it is also called conus, a cone, that is, ‘a tall round shape’. On this account, its fruit, too, is called conus, because its round shape is such that it looks like a cone. As a result, the cypress is also called conifer, ‘bearing fruit of a conical form’. The wood of the cypress has a quality close to that of the cedar and is suitable for the roof-beams of temples, because it remains firm and unyielding. The ancients used to place cypress branches near a funeral pyre, so that the stench of burning corpses would be smothered by their fragrance.
Again The juniper is so called in Greek, either because its shape tapers from wide to narrow, like fire, or it continues to burn long after it has been kindled, so that if you cover live brands from its ashes, they will last for a year; piro [pur] is the Greek word for fire. Again The plane tree gets its name from the width of its leaves or because the tree itself has a wide spread. For the Greek word for ‘broad’ is platos. The Scripture portrays the name and shape of this tree, saying: ‘As a plane tree I spread over the streets’ (see Ecclesiasticus, 24:19). Its leaves are very tender and soft like those of the vine. Again The oak is called quercus or querimus because it was by means of this tree that heathen gods used to answer queries about the future. It lives to a great age, as we read in the case of the oak of Mamre, under which Abraham lived, which is said to have lasted for many centuries until the reign of the Emperor Constantine. The fruit of the oak is called gall.
Again The ash tree, fraxinus, is said to get its name because its berry tends to grow in harsh and mountainous places; in this way fractinus is derived from fraga, as montanus, mountainous, comes from mons, mountain. Ovid says of it: ‘the ash, good for making spears’. The alder, alnus, is so called because it is nourished by water; for it grows near water and survives with difficulty away from water. For this reason it is a delicate and soft because it is nourished in a wet environment.
Again The elm, ulmus, gets its name because it flourishes in a damp, uliginosus, environment. It does less well in mountainous and harsh places. The poplar, populus, is so called because from a single cutting many can be grown. There are two kinds of species: for one is white, the other black. The silver poplar, alba populus, is so called because its leaves are white on one side, green on the other. It is therefore bi-coloured, as if it carried the signs of night and day, which it displays in accordance with the time and position of the sun. The poplar which grows in the region of the River Po, Eridanus, or as others relate, in Syria, also produces a resin.
Again The willow, salix, is so called because it springs, salire, swiftly, that is, grows rapidly. It is a pliant tree, suitable as a support on which to bind vines. They say it is the nature of its seed that if a man drinks it in a potion, he will be sterile; but it also makes women barren. The poplar, the willow and the lime tree, are of soft wood and suitable for carving. Again The osier, vimen, is so called because they have great strength in their greenery. Its nature is such that even if it is dried, it grows green again when you moisten it; if you then cut it and plant it in the ground, it takes root. Again The word for the box tree, buxus, is Greek, partly corrupted in Latin; for it is called pixos in Greek. It is always green and of a smooth wood, suitable for the letters of the alphabet. For this reason, the Scripture says: ‘Write it on box wood’ (see Isaiah, 30:8).