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is greatly due in Nicaragua, as it is throughout Central and South America, to the profligate lives led by the priests, who, with few rare exceptions, live in concubinage more or less open. The women have children at an early age, and make kind and indulgent mothers.
The village is bounded to the eastward by the mines and hacienda of the Chontales Mining Company, whose houses, workshops, and machinery are on rising ground on each side of the valley, with the brook running down between. About fifty acres of the forest have been cut down, and a great deal of this is fenced in and covered with grass. Going up the valley from the village, on the right-hand side, about fifty yards from the road, on a grass-covered slope, stand the houses of the commissioner and cashier, in the latter of which the medical officer also lives. The former, a large, white-washed, square, two-storied, wooden house, with verandahs round three sides of it, and communicating by a covered passage with a detached kitchen behind, had been built by one of my predecessors, Captain Hill, R.N., who did not live to inhabit it. It was a roomy, comfortable house, commanding a view of the machinery, workshops, and part of the mines on the other side of the valley, and formed my residence for upwards of four years.
The slope in front of the house, down to the river, was covered with weedy bushes when I arrived; but I had these cleared away, and a fine greensward of grass took their place. On this I planted young orange, lime, and citron trees; and I had the pleasure, before I left, to see them beginning to bear their fine fruit. To the west of the house was a dell, covered with fallen logs and rubbish thrown from the hill, in which was a perennial spring
of limpid water. I had the logs and rubbish gathered together and burnt, put a light fence round it, and formed a small vegetable, fruit, and flower garden. The mango and avocado trees had not come into bearing before I left; but pineapples, figs, grenadillas, bananas, pumpkins, plantains, papaws, and chioties fruited abun
dantly. The last named is a native of Mexico; it is a climbing plant with succulent stems and vine-like leaves, and grows with great rapidity. The fruit, of which it bears a great abundance, is about the size and shape of a pear, covered with soft prickles. It is boiled and eaten as a vegetable, and resembles vegetable marrow.
At Santo Domingo, it continues to bear a succession of fruits during eight months of the year.
Next to maize, plantains and bananas form the principal sustenance of the natives. The banana tree shoots up its succulent stem, and unfolds its immense entire leaves with great rapidity; and a group of them waving their silky leaves in the sun, or shining ghostly white in the moonlight, forms one of those beautiful sights that can only be seen to perfection in the tropics. There are a great many varieties of them, and they are cooked in many ways-boiled, baked, made into pastry, or eaten as a fruit. The varieties differ not only in their fruits, but in the colour of their leaves and stems; the natives can distinguish them without seeing the fruit, and have names for each, by which they are known throughout all Central America, Mexico, and Peru. These names are of Spanish origin; and this fact, together with the absence of any native, Mexican, or Peruvian name for the fruit, inclines me to adopt the opinion of Clavigero, who contends, in opposition to other writers, that the plantain and banana were not known in these countries before the Spanish conquest, but were first brought from the Canaries to Hayti in 1516, and from thence taken to the mainland.
Neither the sugar-cane* nor the plantain is given in the list of the indigenous productions of Mexico by the careful and accurate Hernandez. The natives made sugar from the green stems of the maize. Humboldt thinks that some species of plantain were indigenous to America ; but it seems incredible that such an important fruit could have been overlooked by the early historians. In the old world the cultivation of the banana dates from the earliest times of which tradition makes mention. One of the Sanscrit names was bhanu—fruit, from which probably the name “banana” was derived. *
* The sugar-cane is said never to bear seed in the West Indies, Malaga, India, Cochin China, or the Malay Archipelago.-Darwin's “ Animals and Plants under Domestication,” vol. ii. p. 169.
Both the plantain and the banana are always propagated from shoots or suckers that spring from the base of the plants; and it is to be remarked that the pineapple and the bread-fruit, that are also universally grown from cuttings or shoots, and have been cultivated from remote antiquity, have in a great measure lost the faculty of producing mature seed. Such varieties could not arise in a state of nature, but are due to selection by early races of mankind, who would naturally propagate the best varieties; and, to do this, seed was not required. As the finest kinds of bananas, pineapples, and breadfruit are almost seedless, it is probable that the nutriment that would have been required for the formation of the seeds has been expended in producing larger and more succulent fruits. We find some varieties of oranges, which also have been cultivated from very early ages, producing fruits without seeds; but as these trees are propagated from seeds, these varieties could not become so sterile as those just mentioned. There can be no doubt that the seedless varieties of bananas, bread-fruits, and pineapples have been propagated for hundreds of years ; and this fact ought to modify the opinions generally entertained by horticulturists that the life of plants and trees propagated from shoots or cuttings cannot be indefinitely prolonged in that way. Perhaps this may be
* Humboldt’s “ Aspects of Nature,” vol. ii. p. 141.
the case in trees, such as apples, that have come under their notice; and the reason that the varieties die out after a certain time, if not reproduced from seed, may be that the vigour of the trees is at last used up by the production of mature seed, but that in the seedless bananas, pineapples, and bread-fruits this does not happen.
Figs grow well in Nicaragua, and by many their luscious fruit is preferred to all others. My trees suffered greatly from the attacks of a large and fine longicorn beetle (Tæniotes scalaris, Fab.) which laid its eggs in the green bark, and produced white grubs that mined into the stem. I had to dig down to them with a knife to extricate them and prevent them destroying the young trees. We were surrounded at a short distance by the forest, in which grow many species of wild fig-trees; and this probably was the reason that my trees suffered so much, for at Granada the fig-gowers were not troubled with this insect.
The grenadilla is the fruit of one of the passionflowers (Passiflora quadrangularis), and is shaped like a large oblong apple, which it also resembles in perfume. It makes fine tarts and puddings, being somewhat like the gooseberry in taste. I had much difficulty in preserving it from being eaten by small forest rats that came out of the woods, where they had already been accustomed to eat the wild fruit of this climber.
The moist, warm climate seemed to suit the papaw tree, as it grew with great vigour, and produced very large and fine melon-like fruits. The green fruits are excellent for making pastry, if flavoured with a little lime-juice.