The Pinsapo

The coat of arms of Yunquera shows the Pinsapo, Abies pinsapo – Spanish fir, a green conifer which only appears in the wild in a small area of Southern Spain and Northern Morocco. The distribution area of the Pinsapo in Spain extends south and west of Yunquera. It is divided into three sub-occurrences, which are located in the Sierra de Grazalema in the province of Cádiz, as well as in the Sierra de las Nieves near Ronda, Yunquera and Tolox and the Sierra Bermeja near Cañete la Real in the province of Malaga.

The Pinsapo was first scientifically described by the Swiss botanist Edmond Boissier in his Voyage botanique dans le Midi de l’Espagne (1839) where he “discovered” the tree during a 6-month journey through the south of Spain.

A year after the opulently illustrated botanical travel report was published, he married his first cousin, Françoise Lucile Butini. Together they made their first trip to Greece and Turkey in 1841, followed in 1845-1846 by an expedition that took them to Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. In 1849, during a third trip, his young wife, aged 27, died of typhus in Granada.

Bereaved and in memory of his beloved wife, Boissier dedicated a small blue flower to her, which he named Omphalodes luciliae, because it reminded him of Lucile’s blue eyes. Back in his home town of Geneva from the trip in the south of Spain that robbed him of his wife, he planted a Pinsapo in the “cimetière des Rois”, Geneva’s oldest graveyard and the resting place of celebrities such as the reformator Jean Calvin, author Jorge Luis Borges, Swiss philosopher Jeanne Hersch or the scientist Humphry Davy. 

Planted in the early 1850s the Pinsapo in Geneva is the oldest specimen in Switzerland. There is another specimen in the in Central Germany, that was planted in the mid-1850s. That is how trees travel. Today, the Pinsapo is a decorative enrichment of gardens and parks in different varieties and crossings.

PS. Spanish cedar was used for famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley’s portable sailing and rowing boat, the “Lady Alice” (named after his fiancée Alice Pike Barney, who married another man while he was in Africa), built by James Arthur Messager at Teddington near London for his African crossing from 1874 to 1877. For a moment we imagined that the boat was built with wood from the Pinsapo forests of the Andalusian Sierras…but we learned that Spanish Cedar is not from Spain and isn’t really a cedar either. Up until the 1990s, Spanish Cedar, from the mahogany family, was most commonly sourced from South American countries and only later introduced as a plantation tree in Africa (Ghana, Ivory Coast) which became another sourcing option.

After a journey of over 11,000 kilometres by land and sea, the “Lady Alice” was towed to a hill above the cataracts near todays Kinshasa on July 31, 1877, covered with stones and left behind. And like Stanley his boat, we had to bury our romantic idea that the Pinsapo had travelled not only to Geneva, but throughout Africa.

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