Book IX, Chapter XXXI
Of the cinnamon [Ocotea quixos] found in the southern province they call Quito.
Translated Elizabeth Girdharry ’22
The province of Quito is located in the southern land that was conquered by the Adelantado Don Francisco Pizarro and Don Diego de Almagro, and in their names by Captain Sebastián de Benalcázar. In a certain part of that province a new type of cinnamon has been found, because in truth it is not like the one we use that comes from the spice islands of Maluku and Brunei. This cinnamon is not like the one we all know except in the taste and the smell but not the form; it comes from the pods of some fruit. My friends and acquaintances have sent me some of these pods, and they are the size depicted here (Illus. 4a, fig. 1a); this first one is shown from the back, and the second one is showing the cavity. They are dark brown, and in my opinion their flavor is not long lasting and quickly fades; but they tell me that when this cinnamon is fresh it is much better than the one used in Spain. These shells or pods are as thick as a silver real; the outside is wrinkled while the inside is smoother, and their stem looks like that of a dried fig. It is believed that the fruit that is born in these shells must be excellent. The Christians have not seen it, because they get these shells or cinnamon (if it is indeed cinnamon) from that province of Quito, and the locals tell them that the trees that bear them are small.
After writing this, Capitan Benalcázar, who will be discussed in book XLV of the third part of this history, was in this city (he had come from Spain, where His Majesty honored him and made him Governor and Captain General of the province of Popayan). We have known each other for many years, and he told me about this cinnamon tree while he was in this city of Santo Domingo (from where he left in 1540 to his governorate), because he was one of the first Spaniards to know of this cinnamon in the province of Quito. He told me that he was very close to seeing them in the trees and that, according to the information he had, they grow on the banks of the great Marañón River, which Vicente Yañez discovered; from within the Mainland, from his governorate of Popayan, he says that there is an opportunity to find this cinnamon and other great secrets of that river. From there he intends to open sea ports and trade posts to this other Northern sea; although at present he gets to Popayan through the Saint Johan River, which is in the governorate of the Adelantado Don Pasqual de Andagoya, in the Southern sea, and he prays to God for it to become a good settlement. And this is enough about the cinnamon until we know more about it.
Image: Watercolor drawing by Sydney Parkinson in 1880, retrieved from the Library and Archives collection at the Natural Museum of History.