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Some words about wood on Wednesday …

July 24, 2013


Yesterday, while sitting in the Reading Room a little lethargic after a rather extended lunch break … I spied a nice book … 

For a little less than a year I have,  for a day each week worked with a volunteer.  She, in a bid to get some work experience and for me help in some interesting projects.  It was worked well, but like all good things has come to an end when she did get a graduate trainee post at Cambridge and I completed some tasks that were long overdue.  Today we all had a lunch out to wish her well.  

… So, I feeling a little lazy enjoyed browsing an item in our new books display; called A passion for trees ; a legacy of John Evelyn by Maggie Campbell-Culver.  As the name suggests it is not academic tome but more as the fly leaf says ‘ celebration of our trees with John Evelyn’ He is described as a ‘luminary of the 17th century.’ Not only was he the founder of the Royal Society, but a gardener and Royal advisor and more important an author of several exceptional horticultural works. The most notable is the Sylva  discourse of forest trees published in 1664.  It was written during a time when the nation needed trees.  (for shipbuilding perhaps?) Sylva was among the first books in England to show an appreciation of the decorative value of trees and the benefits of planting trees to shape the landscape.  

He mentions the Caesalpinia sappan is a species of flowering tree in the legume family, Fabaceae, native to southeast Asia and Malaysia.  Its common names include Sappanwood which belongs to the same genus as Brazilwood (C echinata) and originally called brezel wood in Europe and later the timber was imported from South America. In A passion for trees the legacy of John Evelyn; the author tells us of its coloured wood being ‘in demand for decoration and marquetry.The plant has many other uses for example medicinal with its antibacterial and anticoagulant properties.  It is also produces a valued reddish dye called brazilin, used for dyeing fabrics and for making paints and ink.

In Colour ; making and using dyes and pigments I learned later that Brazil owes its name to this rich source of dye.  In 1500 the Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral visited the land then called by the Europeans Terra de Vera Cruz.  He was struck by the abundance of valuable brazilwood he found there and renamed the country Brazil.    

Perhaps I should get back to work before going of to find ‘our’ copy of Sylva by John Evelyn.

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