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Trade in Acorns – Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1701)

The island of Zia is at present well manured and very fertile. They breed good cattle but gather little wheat. They abound in barley and vine. They have more silk than at Thermia, and much velani.

They have the fruit of one of the fairest species of oak in the world. The root, trunk and height of it is the same as the ordinary oak but its branches are very full and thick, wide-spreading, crooked, whitish within, covered with a greyish bark, and in many places brown. The leaves grow in clusters and are three inches long, two inches broad, round at their base and deeply indented on the edges. Each tooth, if we so call them, terminates in a flabby reddish point. These leaves are thick, hard, pale green, somewhat glittering in the upper part, covered with an almost imperceptible down, white beneath, and, as it were, cottony, supported by a tail about ten lines long.

The acorns are very different from those of the ordinary oak. Each of them begins with an almost spherical button and increases to about an inch or fifteen lines diameter, flat before, and hollow like a navel, open enough to show the point of the fruit within its wrapper, whereas our acorns have only a slight sort of cap that covers no more than a third part of them. The wrapper of the acorn we are speaking of, is a sort of box, set off with several pale green scales, three or four lines long, pretty firm, a line and a half broad and blunt-pointed. When we were there, the fruit was not ripe. The Greeks call them velani, and the tree the Velanida.

The major trading commodity of the island is this velani of which in 1700, they gathered more than 5000 hundredweight. The small velani are the young fruit gathered off the tree and are much more valued than those full ripe ones that fall off themselves. Both are used by the dyers and tanners. The young sort generally fetch a crown per hundred, whereas the others are not worth above half as much, but most commonly they’re mixed.

We left the port of Zia in a Venetian ship that was laden with these velani.