The historical relationship of elms and vines

P. Fuentes-Utrilla, R. A. López-Rodríguez, L. Gil

Abstract


In Spanish, the expression «You cannot ask an elm for pears» denotes something that is impossible. Although its origin is unknown, it can be dated back to the 1st century BC, when appeared the Latin maxim Pirum, non ulmum accedas, si cupias pira (You should go to a pear-tree for pears, not to an elm), a sentence from which we believe the Spanish saying comes. The objective of this paper is to show how the historical relationship of elms and vines can be related to these expressions, because elms did not give pears but, figuratively, did give grapes. The cultivation of vines was soon included among the domestic plants at the beginning of the Neolithic Age. During the Assyrian Empire (7th century BC), vines are represented growing up around pine-like trees. The first documentary evidence of the marriage between elms and vines is found in the Ancient Greece: a wine called Pteleaikós oinos is mentioned, which refers to the region where it was produced, Ptelea (Elm). During the Roman Ages, the cultivation of vines married to elms became more important as it is reflected in the treatises in agriculture. This technique was so common that it appears recurrently as a topic in Poetry and Drama. The classical books were copied during the Middle Ages, and only the Arabian agronomists in the Iberian Peninsula gave new evidence of the relationship between vines and elms in the 12th century. Some four hundred years later the use of elms as props for vines was rare in Spain and, although not to elms, the marriage of vines to trees lasted in the South of Spain until the 19th century. In Italy, elms and vines were even planted together in the 20th century, before the Dutch Elm Disease began to kill the plantations of trees and farmers were forced to replace them with poles.

Keywords


history; elm cultivation; agriculture

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