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CHAP. 32. (17.)—THE LOTUS.

Africa, too, at least that part of it which looks towards our shores, produces a remarkable tree, the lotus,1 by some known as the "celtis," which has also been naturalized in Italy,2 though it has been somewhat modified by the change of soil. The finest quality of lotus is that found in the vicinity of the Syrtes and among the Nasamones. It is the same size as the pear-tree, although Cornelius Nepos states to the effect that it is but short. The leaves have numerous incisions, just as with those of the holm-oak. There are many varieties of the lotus, which are characterized more particularly by the difference in their respective fruits. The fruit is of about the size of a bean, and its colour is that of saffron, though before it is ripe it is continually changing its tints, like the grape. It has branches thickly set with leaves, like the myrtle, and not, as with us in Italy, like the cherry. In the country to which this tree is indigenous, the fruit of it is so remarkably sweet and luscious, that it has even given its name to a whole territory, and to a nation3 who, by their singular hospitality, have even seduced strangers who have come among them, to lose all remembrance of their native country. It is said also, that those who eat this fruit are subject to no maladies of the stomach. The fruit which has no stone in the inside is the best: this stone in the other kind seems to be of an osseous nature. A wine is also extracted from this fruit very similar to honied wine; according to Nepos, however, it will not last above ten days; he states also that the berries are chopped up with alica,4 and then put away in casks for the table. Indeed, we read that armies have been fed upon this food when marching to and fro through the territory of Africa. The wood is of a black colour, and is held in high esteem for making flutes; from the root also they manufacture handles for knives, and various other small articles.

Such is the nature of the tree that is so called in Africa; the same name being also given to a certain5 herb, and to a stalk6 that grows in Egypt belonging to the marsh plants. This last plant springs up when the waters of the Nile have retired after its overflow: its stalk is similar to that of the bean, and its leaves are numerous and grow in thick clusters, but are shorter and more slender than those of the bean. The fruit grows on the head of the plant, and is similar in appearance to a poppy in its indentations7 and all its other characteristics; within there are small grains, similar to those of millet.8 The inhabitants lay these heads in large heaps, and there let them rot, after which they separate the grain from the residue by washing, and then dry it; when this is done they pound it, and then use it as flour for making a kind of bread. What is stated in addition to these particulars, is a very singular9 fact; it is said that when the sun sets, these poppy-heads shut and cover themselves in the leaves, and at sun-rise they open again; an alternation which continues until the fruit is perfectly ripe, and the flower, which is white, falls off.

(18.) Even more than this, of the lotus of the Euphrates,10 it is said that the head and flower of the plant, at nightfall, sink into the water, and there remain till midnight, so deep in the water, that on thrusting in one's arm, the head cannot be reached: after midnight it commences to return upwards, and gradually becomes more and more erect till sunrise, when it emerges entirely from the water and opens its flower; after which it still continues to rise, until at last it is to be seen raised quite aloft, high above the level of the water. This lotus has a root about the size of a quince, enveloped in a black skin, similar to that with which the chesnut is covered. The substance that lies within this skin is white, and forms very pleasant food, but is better cooked, either in water or upon hot ashes, then in a raw state. Swine fatten upon nothing better than the peelings of this root.

1 The Rhamnus lotus of Linnæus; the Zizyphus lotus of Desfontaines.

2 The Celtis australis of Linnæus. Fée remarks that Pliny is in error in giving the name of Celtis to the lotus of Africa.

3 The Lotophagi. See B. v. c. 7.

4 A kind of grain diet. See B. xviii. c. 29, and B. xxii. c. 61.

5 The Melilotus officinalis of Linnæus.

6 The Nymphæaa Nelumbo of Linnæus, or Egyptian bean.

7 He speaks of the indentations on the surface of the poppy-head.

8 See B. xxii. c. 28.

9 Fée remarks that there is nothing singular about it, the sun more or less exercising a similar influence on all plants.

10 The same as the Nymphæa Nelumbo of the Nile, according to Fée .

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