(6) Arabia - Yemen - Vegetation. Date Palm. Other Fruit Trees. Vines. Other Plant Products. Coffee. Kaat.
Vegetation of Yemen
It is in this region that Arabian vegetation obtains its most varied, as also its most valuable development North of Medinah the parched and niggard soil, chiefly composed of marl, flint, and sand, with a supply of rain alike scanty and uncertain, produces little more than varieties of acacia, euphorbias, and thorny shrubs,-a valueless crop.
The Date Palm
But in the neighbourhood of Medinah commences the great date-palm belt that crosses the peninsula, and extends southward as far as lat. 23° in full vigour. A hundred and more verities of this tree are said to grow in the immediate vicinity of Medinah alone: the quality of the fruit varies for each kind, as also do its size, colour, and flavour. The poorest of all, the "sihanee" date, a yellow, stringy fruit, is much eaten by the Bedouins; the "birnee" is red and succulent; the "jebelee," an upland date, is a staple article of export. Nejd is, however, the favoured land of date-palms; every valley that intersects its vast plateaus waves with them; and the fruit, which often attains a length of two inches, with a proportionate thickness, far surpasses the best products of Hejaz in lusciousness as in size. Eaten fresh or stewed with butter, they form the staff of Arab food; and the pulp, after the kernels have been extracted, close pressed and half dried, is exported under the name of ajweh to almost every part of the east. In general a latitude varying from 27° to 22° N., and a sufficient distance from the sea to preclude its atmospheric influences, seem to be the most favourable circumstances for bringing this fruit to perfection; and hence it comes that the produce of the Jowj and of Hareek-which, though inland, lie too far, the one to the north, the other to the south,-of the Hejaz on the Red Sea, and of Rateef on the Persian Gulf coast, is decidedly inferior to that of the inland districts of Kaseem and Nejd. Yet an exception must be made in favour of the "kholas" date, as it is called, that grows in Hasa, an amber-coloured date of exquisite falvour, the king of dates: the tree itself that bears it is readily distinguished from every other species by the delicacy of its stem and foliage. But in the greater number of instances, whatever the variation in the fruit, the palm trees themselves are to an unpractised eye undistinguishable the one from the other.
Other Fruit Trees
Besides the date tree, the "doom," a fan-leaved palm bearing a large fibrous and sweetish fruit, is not of uncommon growth in the central and southern districts; while the cocoa-nut and betel are planted, though not to such an extent as to reckon among the articles of ordinary cultivation, along the southern and eastern coast. So are also the banana, the papay, and the Indian fig; but all these are of recent importation from the opposite coast of India.
Vines are cultivated throughout Arabia, and have been so from time immemorial; and though since the well-known prohibition of the Koran the grapes are no longer pressed for wine, they are in great request as an article of consumption, both fresh and dried. The best fruit is that of Yemen; Oman, where the heat is such that the vintage is gathered in April, comes next, both for the quantity and the quality of its produce.
Other Vegetable Products
In peaches, apricots, pomegranates, and oranges, the district of Taif, near Mecca, excels all others. Senna, an article much used by the Arabs in their rough medicine, grows in the southern Hejaz and the Tehamah; so also does the balsam tree, the best of which is indigenous to the district of Safra, near Mecca; its gum is sold even within Arabia itself at a high price. The incense tree, said to be a native of Hadramaut, in the extreme south, has, strange to say, never yet been exactly identified, though its gum is a constant article of export; and the henna tree (Lawsonia inermis), used in dyeing, grows abundantly on the western coast. The cotton shrub springs up, seemingly wild, in the gullies of Nejd; but owing to the dryness of the soil and climate, does not repay extensive cultivation. Indigo is grown in many places, chiefly in the low districts bordering on the Persian Gulf.
But although the Arabs themselves consider the date palm the special pride and ornament of their country, a more general verdict would probably be given outside of Arabia itself in favour of the coffee plant. This shrub is by some supposed to be indigenous to Abyssinia; it has, however, for several centuries attained its most extensive distribution and its and its highest standard of produce in Yemen, where it is cultivated throughout about half of the upland district, the best quality of berry being that which ripens on the western slopes of the mountains in the neighbourhood of Senaa.
The plant itself is too well known to require description; it is enough here to remark that its principal flowering season in Yemen is in March. The first crop of the berries ripens in May; a second and third crop succeed in the course of the year. The diffused atmospheric heat of an equatorial region is requisite for the growth of the coffee plant; yet it needs also a large supply of moisture, and even of shade, to protect it from the too direct action of the sun. In order to obtain these conditions, large trees are often planted here and there among the shrubs, which are arranged on rock terraces, one above anther, amphitheatre-wise, along the slopes, and are densely crowded together. The processes of gathering and drying the berries, of separating the husks, and of picking the kernels, are all performed by manual labour of the simplest kind. How the drink is prepared has been often and minutely described by travelers; the method employed is tedious, but the result infinitely surpasses that obtained in any other country or by any other method. A slightly acid and very refreshing beverage is also made from an infusion of the "kishr" or outer husk. Its use in almost confined to the Yemen; it is esteemed a febrifuge.
A small shrub, called "káat," is common throughout the coffee plantations; it resembles verbena in scent and growth; its leaves are chewed by the natives, much as those of tobacco are by some Europeans; the effect is that of a gentle stimulant and anti-narcotic. This plant is only found in the south-western regions, and its use is limited to them.
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