Elizabeth Girdharry ’22: Book IX, Chapter XXVI (Of the Tree Called Capera and the Fruit It Bears)

Book IX, Chapter XXVI

Of the tree called capera (Panama tree or Sterculia apetala) and the fruit it bears, which are a type of very big almonds.

Translated by Elizabeth Girdharry ’22

On the Mainland, capera is what the Indians who speak the Cueva language call some mighty, very tall and braod trees; some are hollow at the bottom and resemble elms. The fruit they bear looks like large almonds that drop when ripe and cured, which happens during the dry season—in Castilla de Oro this is from the middle of November going into December, January, and February. These almonds drop and come off at the stem, and they are the size of the one depicted here (Illus. 3a, fig. 16.a). Their color is the same as the green almonds of Castile (before our almonds shed the hull they have around the shell), and they open up from the tip to the stem in the middle, by the curved or arched part. The fruit are compounds of four follicles, and inside each one there are four seeds the size of olives, no bigger than are depicted here and in the same fashion. Each one is covered in a thin, black skin; when roasted they lose that skin or seed coat and are as white as hazelnuts (but better tasting). The fruit is wild and not sown; although I have heard that in the past the Indians would plant these trees in their settlements and appreciated them. The timber is soft and not very good. In the city of Panama, inside the town, near the fishermen’s huts or bohíos, on the way to the monastery of Our Lady of Mercy, there are some of these trees (or at least there were some until the year 1529), and I would sometimes eat the fruit, which even in large quantities does no harm, even helping with digestion before or after a meal.

Image: Watercolor illustration of the branch of an almond tree by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues in 1575, retrieved from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.