This is the eighth book of the first part of the Natural and General History of the Indies, Islands, and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, which deals with fruit trees, by Captain Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, captain of the fortress and city of Santo Domingo and chronicler of the Emperor and King, our lord.
Translated by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert
Pliny, in Book XII of his Natural History, deals with aromatic trees, and on Book XIII deals with foreign and strange trees, and of the unguents and other many particulars and medicinal secrets, because he writes about all parts and authors around the world who came to his notice, and about what he read from many: and as in his history he wished and strove to comprehend the universe, he had more to say than what I can gather here, since what I write here is solely from my pen and feeble diligence (and only of these parts), and he rewrites what many others wrote in addition to what he himself learned; and thus he had less trouble in gathering his materials. He writes in Book XIV of grapevines, and in Book XV of fruit trees, and in Book XVI he writes of grafted or inestati trees (which is the same as grafting). All these sorts of trees he distributes among those books I intend to gather in five (or at least what I have understood of such matters), which will be Book VII, which precedes this one, and this Book VIII, and the three following. And if I were not to write as much it will be because the land is new to us, and the greatest part of it is still secret when it comes to such things, therefore what can be written about it in this first part will be small in respect to what it is expected to be known later. And so the lesson not be too brief, with only what has been learned from a first impression, what I have come to understand of these matters up to the present moment will be told, in the islands as well as in the Mainland. Since these lands are a very large part of the world, half of it, and includes many kingdoms, thus there will be more to say about these matters each day of my life (and in the days of whoever would succeed me in this office), and much could be added to these five books about the agriculture here.
I want, then, in Chapter I of this Book VIII, to offer a brief account of the trees and plants that have been brought from Spain, and which were not to be found in this island or within the empire of these Indies; and then I will proceed with the trees that are natural to these parts and bear fruit (of any type to have come to my notice), that can be found in this island of Hispaniola and the Mainland, so that matters of the same type can be found together; and I will address wild trees and other types further ahead in Book IX, since it is a different and separate subject. I ask the reader that wherever he may find my information too brief to respect the effort needed to inquire about these things in new places, where such a diversity and types of subject matter come together, and the lack of rest for men where such gifts and opportunities open to authors who write in lands populated by polished and prudent people are lacking, and find themselves among savages, as we find ourselves here, searching for a life, and facing each day many deadly perils.