Tree trivia

David E Vassberg (Land and Society in Golden Age Castile) writes:

There exists also an old proverb (of unknown vintage): En tierra de señorío, almendro o guindo; en tierra real, noguera o moral (In seigneurial lands, almond or cherry; in royal lands, walnut or mulberry), which the editor of the collection of proverbs [Bergua, Refranero español] takes to mean that it was better to settle in royal, rather than seigneurial lands. However, it could also be interpreted to mean that there was little real difference between the two.

Hernán Núñez includes this commented variant in Refranes o proverbios en romance (ca 1549, in CORDE):

En tierra de señorío, mançano [apple] y guindo y en tierra real, noguera y moral.
Los dos primeros árboles duran poco, los dos postreros mucho y dize otro refrán: Del mal lo menos.

The second sentence reads, “The lives of the former two trees are but short; those of the latter two, long”. That’s roughly true: almonds and apples are rarely much use after 50 and cherries fade at 30, while walnuts may still be going strong at 100 and black mulberries–popular from Roman times–may fruit for centuries.

However, rather than simply suggesting that it is better to live on royal rather than seigneurial lands, I think the proverb–as Núñez seems to be saying–is actually instructing us to optimise asset selection on the basis of investor risk tolerance.

Almonds, for example, start to fruit at 3-4 years old and may deliver top yields by 6; they are thus an ideal crop for those who need to see a reasonably quick, safe return. Walnuts, on the other hand, may take 8 years to start fruiting and only provide maximum yields after a decade; they are the nuts of kings.

I think that Núñez’s encore–Del mal lo menos, the lesser of [several] evils–is telling us that, while choosing and planting fruit trees was a nerve-racking business for people without supermarkets or banks, even then there were fairly simple ways of working out which option would probably be least bad for one.

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