Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Chilean Bellota, are the nuts edible?

There are a lot of red flags here:

  1. Nuts rain down during the "nut-raining season", but are not scooped up by squirrels or park visitors. They are swept up and thrown out by the city gardeners.
  2. There is hardly anything written about this tree which could be that I haven't figured out what its current name is yet - Latin name-wise. The tree label says it is Cryptocarya miersii.
  3. A common name for the tree is "Chilean Soap Tree". :OP

What is it called? The PlantList fails us here. Chances are good that it's called something else now, but what? Searching for Cryptocarya miersii in BHL shows up nothing.

How to pronouce Bellota

My good guesses were wrong. Bay-yota like llama (yama). Bell-ota like a bell. Good try but not right.

My Chilean classmate said that the name (in Chile) is prounounced "Be-jjjota". She recognized it immediately when she visited for a sketch class. I asked her if you can eat the nuts. Her mother lives in Quillota (pronounced Qui-jjjota) and she asked her mom. Yes, you can eat them roasted, which must take care of the saponins. Recipes anyone?

The Bellota is in the Lauraceae family - that family with interesting members - avocado, California Bay Laurel, Cinnamomum. The California Bay Laural has similar looking nuts which are also roasted.

Where did this strange tree come from?

Distinguished horticulturalists described it in 2018 as having a "pancake trunk" - looking like it is made from a stack of pancakes. Its branches look like an octopus showing off its unusually muscular arms. It has a tiny peep hole where branches fused together. It is altogether delightful.

The old Trees of the Berkeley Campus book, 1976, says that there is a specimen on the bank of Strawberry Creek south of Wellman Hall. It was thought that Rixford imported the seed and it was planted about 1876. I have have walked all around there looking for it, but in 1976 it was damaged by frost. So it must have kicked the bucket.

The Seed Bulletin, 1898, says that the seeds came from a Niles tree which was originally obtained from G.P. Rixford. (Rixford, if you may remember, had a big role in the Smyrna fig caprification story.)

What were the seeds from the San Francisco Bulletin?

Tangible Memories (p. 57) says that Dr. Rixford decided to award new subscribers to his newspaper with seeds or cuttings.

What else was in that box of plant goodies? Where is there a 1871 SF Bulletin? An SF Librarian says it might have been called the Daily Bulletin.

If the Shinn family planted a Chilean Bellota in 1871, could they have nuts 27 years later? The Exchange Seed List says it fruits when 15 feet or more in height. Nuts as easy to sprout as buckeyes.

Some more sorting out is needed.


December 10, 1881

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