Tropic Days, by E. J. Banfield

Fragrance and Fruit

“The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise.”— Holy Writ.

While the remnant of the crop of citrus fruits still hangs on the trees, after providing refreshing food for six months and more, the blooms which promise next year’s supplies decorate the branches. Is it not pleasing to have such graceful promises before the burden of the passing season has disposed of all its sweetness? Possibly these early flowers are destined to produce fruit for the admiration of living things upon which the gardener bestows anything but a welcome. It may come to maturity just after the wet season, when flies and moths feast and corrupt in riot which provokes to wrath. Inconsequent feeders, they probe the fruit and flit away after a sip which does not absorb a thousandth part of its keen juices, or they use a comely specimen in which to deposit eggs, which in the course of Nature become grubs. All such infected fruit the trees abandon until the ground is strewn with waste. Such disaster happens when the air is favourable to the breeding of quivering gauze wings; but there comes a time when the fruit suffers little or no ill, and then the heart of the orchardist rejoices as does that of the fisher when the wind comes up from the sea. Then does he accept fine promises in good faith, for it has come to be the fashion for certain varieties of citrus fruits to provide two crops, and the second, which ripens about the beginning of August, the superior in size, appearances generally, and distinctly in flavour. The fruit is just as juicy as that which ripens when the air is saturated with the moisture of the wet season, while its fragrance almost equals that of the snowy flowers whence it sprang. These facts hasten to this conclusion — that the orange-grower has something beyond mere money in compensation for his toil. Can it be called toil? Does he not for the most part, after the first and essential preliminaries are of the past, permit Nature to have her own wayward will with his dutiful trees? Does he always and invariably cut out the dead wood which tells of much too strenuous efforts on their part to justify their existence and his care? Does he attempt to exterminate the pretty flies which send to the ground a certain percentage, while yet the fruit is immature and bitter? Does he let the light of the caressing sun into the hearts of his pet trees by removing superfluous twigs? Well does he know that if he tended them as he should their bounty to him would be much magnified. Yet does he dream on, accepting that which comes, admiring leafage, bloom, and fragrant fruit, and always postponing the day when substantial aid and credit should be given. There is something to be said in favour of this happy attitude towards good-natured trees. Should it not suffice to have given them monopoly and choice? Many others, and some of far nobler proportions, have been exterminated for their special benefit and advantage. They have been grown from seed of most highly complimented fruit; their infancy and youth have been nurtured and protected; each has been assigned its proper place with due regard to the welfare of neighbours; less promising vegetation has been summarily checked; the first flowers have been sniffed with high delight, the first fruits sampled with extravagant praise. Having bestowed upon trees care and attention, while they were yet mere sprouts of tender green, and admired their sturdy development, and approved their best efforts, is it not yours to accept whatsoever they offer as reward and recompense for past labour and present appreciation?

From the artistic standpoint the most admirable of all the citrus-trees is the pomelo, which, however, lacks merit from the commercial side. The tree grows more sedately than the orange or the mandarin, but on a grander scale. The leaves are bigger, tougher, and the appendages on either side of the stalk (which botanists call the stipules) more developed. The blooms are greater, and endowed with a much richer perfume than the orange; the fruit is huge and fragrant, though somewhat disappointing to the individual who expects the sweetness of the mandarin; while, if the views of the learned in such attributes are trustworthy it possesses medicinal qualities which are foreign to its dainty, diminutive relative. It would be mere affectation to refrain from these compliments to the pomelo when the atmosphere is saturated with the perfume from lusty trees. Certainly one has to wait patiently for many a long year ere his trees greet him with white flowers which pour out perfume of rare density and enrich him with golden fruit almost as big as footballs. From nine to twelve years must elapse, but expectancy is not wholly measurable by the arbitrariness of time. The true standard is the desire, tempered by the patience of the custodian of the trees.

In August the pomeloes put on their most attractive appearances. The young leaves of lively tint contrast with the almost sombre green of the older foliage, and flowers in clusters give a most becoming adornment. Big and beautiful as they are, scent is their most conspicuous feature. Even in the open air it is rich almost to cloyness. It hangs about the tree while the wind is still, and the slightest movement of the air wafts it hither and thither. It stings sensitive folk with its intensity at close quarters, but when diffused is fragrance of ethereal delight. All day long birds frolic in the trees, some to cull the nectar, some to search for insects attracted for like purpose, some to nibble and discard white petals. All the moist soil beneath is strewn with snowy flakes, for at night flying foxes blunder among the branches, destroying more blooms than they eat. But why grumble? Birds which nip off petals and musty foxes which brush down whole posies in their clumsiness are but positive checks to overproduction. Do they not avert the unthankful task of carting away dozens of barrow loads of superfluous fruit? Last night at dusk there was a sensation of the coming of rain, though the air was still and the sky clear. I paused under the trees to expand my lungs with their scented breathings. A semi-intoxicated bird twittered drowsily among the branches,

“His happy good-night air,

Some blessed hope, whereof he knew,

And I was unaware.”

Dozens of sphinx moths — big torpedo-shaped bodies carried by wings of soft brown and dull red — floated about, sipping where and when and as long as they liked. Sometimes the sphinx has almost an aggressive tone In his flight — hasty, important, brooking no interference. Last night’s note was of supreme content. A rich and overflowing feast was spread and the insects hovered over the posies and sipped and fluted like merry roysterers, without a care or thought of the morrow. It was a love-feast, for the still night seemed to invite the trees to give of their richest and best; the psalm of the insects was audible, not to the distance whence the perfume was dissipated, but for many a scented yard. The trees seemed sanctified, and I stood bare-headed among them and gave my silent praise for a delightsome experience. Expectancy and patience had been overpaid.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50