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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937], at


Great and notable is the diversity of plants and flowers that adorn Yucatan in their seasons, as well among the trees as the plants, many of them being marvelously fine and beautiful, of many colors, and odorous; outside also of the beauty with which they dress the woods and fields, these plants afford the greatest abundance of supply for the bees for honey and wax. Among these I shall give here a number, both for their exquisite smell and beauty, and for the benefits derived from them by those who dwell in that land.

There are sages much fresher and more odorous than those here, and with longer and slenderer leaves; these the Indians cultivate for their odor, and for their pleasure. I have noted that they increase their beauty by putting ashes around the base.

There is one plant with broad leaves and tall, thick branches, of a singular freshness and fertility, growing as they do in profusion from cuttings, the same as do osiers, although not like these in any way; rubbing the leaf a little between the hands it has a real odor of clover, although it loses this when dry; it is good for freshening the temples at fiestas, and for this it is used.

There is also sweet basil found in the woods and fields, which in some parts are full of it; growing in those rocks it is very fresh, beautiful and odorous, though not comparable with what is grown in the gardens, imported from here, and which grows and spreads in a notable fashion.

There is a flower they call tixzula, of the most delicate odor I have ever known, much more so than the jessamine; it is white, or light purplish in

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some cases, and could be brought here to Spain, since it sprouts from a thick bulb. These bulbs put forth tall, thick and very fresh spires that last the year around, and once a year bear in the center a green stem as broad as three fingers and as long as the spires; at the end of these come the flowers in a bunch, each being some six inches long with its stem; when open they have five long leaflets, open and connected at the base by a delicate white membrane, with pellicles in the center, white and yellow and wonderfully beautiful. When this stalk is cut and put in a jar of water, it holds the soft odor for many days, the joined flowers only opening a little at a time.

There are certain small lilies that are very white and odorous, which last long in water and would be easy to bring here, since they also grow from bulbs and are quite like our lilies, except that the odor is more delicate and does not give headaches; also it lacks the yellow center of our lilies.

There is a rose they call ixlaul, which they tell me is of much beauty, and odorous.

There is also a kind of tree they call nicte, that bears many white roses, and others half yellow, and yet others half purplish; these are fresh and odorous, and of them they fashion handsome garlands, and lectuaries when they so desire.

There is a flower they call kom, that is very odorous and gives a burning heat when smelled; it could easily be brought here. Its leaves are broad and wonderfully fresh.

Besides these flowers and odorous plants there are many others most beneficial and medicinal, among them two varieties of the yerbamora or night shade, fresh and very handsome. There is much doradilla or ceterach, and also maiden's hair; also a plant whose leaves boiled are a wonderful remedy' for swollen feet and legs.

There is another especially good for the cure of sores, which they cab yaxpahalché. Another has the odor of fennel; this is both eaten raw or boiled, and so applied for the cure of sores. At Bayhalar there is also found zarzaparilla.

They have a certain plant that grows in the pools and other places, three-cornered like the sedge, but much thicker, out of which they make their baskets, staining them beautifully with colors.

Also they have a plant that grows both wild and cultivated near them houses (this being the best), and which is a kind of hemp (cáñamo), which they employ for an infinity of useful things.

Again on certain trees there grows without cultivation a plant that bears fruit like small cucumbers, out of which they make glue for sticking thing, together, when needed.

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The seeds they have for human sustenance are very good maize, of many different kinds and colors; of this they gather much and keep in a granary or silo for poor years. There are two kinds of small beans, one black and the other of different colors; others small and white that have been brought over from Spain.

Their peppers have many different pods; the seeds of some of these are used for seasoning. Others are for eating baked or boiled, and still others for cups for household use. They have fine melons, and also Spanish calabashes. They have millet, which yields excellently and is good food.

They have a yellow fruit that is fresh and tasteful; this they sow, and the root, growing like the turnip, short, fat and round, is the fruit; this they eat raw with salt.

There is another root that grows under the earth, being sown, and is great as food; of this there are many kinds, purplish, yellow and white, which they eat boiled or roasted; they are good eating, and taste somewhat like chestnuts; they also serve roasted for a drink. [? the peanut]

There are two other kinds of good roots they use as food; also others that grow wild and have a salty flavor, of which I have before spoken and which serve them in seasons of famine; otherwise they do not use them.

They have a small tree with soft branches containing much sap, whose leaves they eat as a salad, tasting like cabbage and good with plenty of fat bacon. The Indians plant it wherever they make their homes, and then have the leaves for gathering the whole year. There is much fresh chicory grown in the gardens, but they do not eat it.

It is a matter for praise to be given to God, with the prophet who has said "Admirable, O Lord, is thy name in all lands," because of the great number of trees thy Majesty has created in this land, and all so unlike ours, so unlike what I have seen elsewhere (I speak of Yucatan), and of all both the Indians and the Spaniards have great use and benefit.

One there is with a fruit like round gourds, out of which the Indians make their vessels (jícaras); they are very handsome, and they paint them elaborately and beautifully.

There is also another of the same species, only smaller and very hard, of which they make small cups for ointments and other purposes.

There is another kind that bears a fruit like filberts, of whose kernels they make fine beads, and whose bark is used for washing clothes the same as soap, making a fine lather.

They cut the incense tree a great deal, for the demons; this they extract cutting the bark with a stone for the sap to run out. This tree is fresh, tall, and with fine leafage and shade, but its flower turns the wax black when it is present.

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There is a very handsome tree that grows by the wells, tall and with fresh leaves; this spreads its branches in a marvelous manner, growing in a very orderly fashion from the trunk, in threes or more, around the tree, and continuing to extend and the shoots to grow.

There are also cedars, but not of the finer kind.

There is a sort of yellowish tree, veined like an oak, marvelously strong and hard, and so stout that we have seen it used as doorposts in the houses at Izamal, and supporting the entire weight above.

There is another of the hardest kind, of a tawny color, of which they make bows and lances.

There is another of the color of an orange, of which they make staffs, very strong. I think it is called brazil.

There are many trees which they say are good for the affliction of pustules, which they call zon.

There is a tree whose sap causes sores when touched, and even its shade is noxious, if one sleeps under it.

There is another with double thorns, long and very hard and thick, on which the birds never rest; these thorns are all hollowed inside, and always filled with ants.

There is another tree of great height and size, which bears a fruit like carob beans, filled with certain black seed-nuts that they eat in time of famine; from the roots of this tree they make buckets for drawing water from the wells.

There are others from whose bark the Indians make small cups for taking water; also others from which they make ropes; also yet others whose crushed bark they use for polishing plastered walls and hardening them.

There are beautiful mulberry trees, of fine wood; also so many other useful and beautiful trees as to astonish one.

In the woods and fields there are many kinds of long osiers or willows (not the kind of which they make baskets), which they use for tying in erecting their houses, or whatever else they have need for; the use they make of these is very great indeed.

Another tree gives a sap that is fine to strengthen the gums.

Another bears a certain large fruit that is filled with a wool that for pillows is superior to tow.


Fearing to offend the fruit or their trees, I have felt best to put them to themselves; and I will speak first of the wine that the Indians esteem so highly, and therefore plant them in all their enclosures or around their houses. It is an ugly tree, producing nothing but its roots, and its wine by using honey and water.

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In the country there are certain wild vines bearing edible grapes; we find many of these on the Cupul coast. There are plums of many kinds, some of them very tasteful and wholesome; they are very different from ours, having but little meat and a large stone, contrary to what is found with those we have here; this tree puts forth its fruit before the leaves, and without flower.

There are many bananas, these having been brought by the Spaniards, since previously they did not have them.

There is a very large tree that bears a large, longish fruit, and fat with a red meat, very fine to eat; it does not produce a flower, but only the fruit, at first very small and growing by degrees.

There is another very leafy and beautiful tree, whose leaves never fall; this also bears no flowers, but a fruit much sweeter than the one above, small, dainty, well tasting and very delicate; some of these are better than others, and the best would be much in favor if they were brought over here; they call them ya in their language.

Another fresh and beautiful tree also holds its leaves without their falling, and bears a small fig they call ox.

Another, exceedingly beautiful and fresh, bears a fruit like large eggs; the Indians gather it green and ripen it in the ashes; when ripe it lasts well, is sweet and tastes like the yolk of an egg [papaya].

Another tree bears also a yellow fruit, not so large as the one above, but softer and sweeter; this when eaten leaves a kernel like a soft prickly body, curious to see.

Another fresh and beautiful tree bears a fruit like hazelnuts, with its husk, inside are fruit like guindas, with a large kernel. The Indians call these vayam, and the Spaniards guayas.

There is another good and wholesome fruit the Spaniards brought, which they call guayavas.

In the sierras there are two kinds of trees, one bearing fruit as large as a good pear, very green, with a thick skin; these they ripen by beating them on a stone, whereupon they have a special flavor. The other bears fruit like pineapples, good to eat, juicy and acid; this has many small kernels, but these are not wholesome.

There is another tree that grows only in open places, alone and never among other trees; its bark is good for tanning hides, serving like sumac; it bears a small tasty yellow fruit, which is much eaten by the women.

There is a very large and fresh tree that the Indians call on; it bears a fruit like largish small calabashes, soft and tasting like butter; it is fatty and of much substance and nourishment. It has a large kernel, a thin skin, and is eaten cut in slices like a melon, and with salt.

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There are artichokes (cardos) that are very spiny and ugly, growing always on stems attached to other trees and growing from them; the fruit of these is red-skinned, shaped like an artichoke (alcachofa), soft to open, and without spines. The flesh inside is white, with many small black seeds; it is sweet, most delicious, watery and melting in the mouth, being eaten like an orange in sections around, and with salt; the Spaniards eat as many as the Indians bring in from the woods.

There is a spongy tree, ugly but large, that bears a sort of large fruit full of very savory yellow meat, with pits like hemp seeds but larger; these are good for the urine. They make an excellent conserve from this fruit; the tree puts out its leaves after the fruit has gone.

There is a small, rather spiny tree bearing a fruit shaped like a slender cucumber, somewhat long; it is like the artichoke (cardo) in taste, and is eaten in the same fashion, with salt, and in slices; the seeds are like those of the small cucumbers, many and tender. If by some chance a hole is made in the fruit while still on the tree, a gum collects in it smelling like fine civet. The fruit is also an excellent remedy for women's periodic troubles.

There is another tree whose flower is full of a soft odor, and whose fruit is like what we here in Spain call blanc mange; there are many different sorts, with fruit of different quality.

There is a tree that the Indians raise near their houses, bearing spiny pods like chestnuts, but not so large nor so rough; they open when ripe and contain small seeds which both Spaniards and Indians use to color their condiments, as one does with saffron; the color is marked, and stains a great deal [achiote].

I am sure that there remain yet other fruits, but I shall however speak of those of the palms, of which there are two kinds. One kind [huano] serves for thatching the houses, and is very tall and slender; these bear great bunches of a black fruit like pulse, of which the Indians are very fond.

The other kind is a low, very spiny palm whose leaves are very short and thin, and serve no purpose; these bear great bunches of a round green fruit, of the size of pigeons’ eggs. When the husk is removed there remains a very hard kernel, inside of which is a pit the size of a hazelnut, of good taste and useful in times of poor harvests; they make of it a hot food which they take in the mornings, and on occasions use the milk for flavoring as one does almonds.

They gather a very great amount of cotton, which grows in all parts of the country, there being two sorts. One is sown each year and does not last over, and the tree of this is small; the tree of the other kind lasts five or six years. The fruit of both is in the forms of pods like nuts, with a green husk that opens when ripe, showing the cotton within.

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They are accustomed to gather the cochineal, which is said to be the finest in the Indies, as growing on dry soil; the Indians gather some little here and there.

There are colors of many kinds made from the juices of certain trees and of flowers, but because the Indians have not known how to perfect them by gums to temper them in prevention, they fade. But those who gather the silk have already discovered the remedies, and say that they give as perfect results as anywhere found.

Next: XLIX. Of the Birds