History

The Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country, Silviculture and Botany

JORGE ASKASIBAR ZUBIZARRETA
Amigo de Número de la Real Sociedad Bascongada de Amigos del País

The aim of this brief text is to take a look at how the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country has intersected with the fields of silviculture and botany throughout its long history. This brief commentary coincides with the recent digitisation of the Society's collection of documents, which represents an essential step towards understanding our history. The digitised collection consists of the Ensayo (Essay), 1768, volume I; Estatutos (Statutes), volume II; Resúmenes de Actas (Summary of Minutes), 1773 to 1781, volume III; and the extensive collection of issues of Los Extractos ('Abstracts', the Society's journal), 1771 to 1793, volumes IV to XI.

These volumes, which would constitute a fine addition to any rare book collection, were first seen by the public in a facsimile edition published in 1985, thanks to the efforts of the Sociedad Guipuzcoana de Ediciones y Publicaciones, a cultural initiative of the Municipal Savings Bank of San Sebastián (Caja de Ahorros Municipal de San Sebastián).

Los Extractos, which served as an outlet for ideas and news from the Society, was one of the first scientific journals to be published on the Iberian peninsula. Part II of each annual issue summarises the lectures and news from the Comisiones Primeras de Agricultura y Economía Rústica (the First Committee on Agriculture and Rural Economy); today, this content as a whole could be considered a compilation of issues of a multidisciplinary scientific journal (Roman Polo P. 2000, p. 153).

There is also a Volume XII, published in 1985, which includes a catalogue of members of the Society covering the period from 1765-1793, compiled by Julián Martínez Ruiz, a bibliography of works by members, compiled by J. Ignacio Tellechea Idígoras, and an index of the people, subjects and places mentioned in Los Extractos, compiled by María Camino Urdiain Martínez.

The catalogue of members and bibliography, both alphabetical, as well as the index compiled by María Camino Urdiain, supplement the alphabetical list of people, subjects and places with numbers indicating the year in which the Extractos issue was published and the page number on which the subject appeared. This greatly simplifies the task of looking up information on a particular subject or person. For example, a sample entry from the index might read, BOTANY, Botanical Gardens, 74, 58-62, telling us that we should consult pages 58 to 62 of the 1774 issue of Los Extractos.

In addition to the issues of Los Extractos indexed by M. Camino Urdiain, the Ensayo, 1768, volume I, deserves a careful reading, as it touches on the fields discussed here. Pages 71 and 72 discuss the introduction of the black locust tree, Robinia pseudoacacia, a plant which, according to the text, was valued for three properties: firstly, as it is a leguminous plant, its leaves could serve as food for livestock, secondly, its branches could be used to make wood coal to fuel ironworks, and finally its hard, durable wood was ideal for building and making furniture. We continue to take advantage of these properties of the tree today.

Later in the Ensayo—on pages 94 to 122—there is a highly detailed report, presented at the General Meeting held in Vitoria on 19 April 1766, that reflects a high degree of knowledge of and interest in forest nurseries and silvicultural techniques. The text discusses planting seasons, seed stratification, planting out, etc.; how to choose the appropriate soil depending on the main species used (oak, beech, chestnut, ash and walnut); how to set up a plantation; experiences with transplants in autumn and winter; plotting plantations; protecting plants from livestock; when and how to prune; periods of use for pollarded trees; how to cultivate and train wild trees, etc.

In its analysis, the text contrasts the methods of Duhamel, Liger, Hall, Dupuy and other renowned foreign authors with 'those of our own country'.

A look at Los Extractos also yields a great variety of references to botany, analysed in great detail in 1990 by Goicoetxea Marcaida. Goicoetxea Marcaida, along with M. Nieves M. Sigüenza, would later publish evidence that members of the Society had sent medicinal plants to the Americas and the Philippines (p. 339-350).

A more recent contribution to this subject was offered by María Camino Urdiain in 2007. Her work on the natural sciences in the biography of Elder Lorenzo Prestamero y Sodupe, published by the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country, Alava Chapter, discusses the early experiences of Alava Chapter members with experimental nurseries and gardens in Vitoria, the creation of a herbarium, the Botanical Gardens project set in motion by Gómez Ortega's Plan de Flora Bascongada and a number of related initiatives found in the Prestamero archives.

 

Bibliography 

ASCASIBAR ZUBIZARRETA, J. 1993. Contribución de la RSBAP a la difusión de la Selvicultura en el último tercio del siglo XVIII. Lecture presented on the occasion of the Investiture Ceremony for New Members of the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country, 25 May 1993. Nuevos Extractos, Supplement no. 6 G of the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country Newsletter.
GOICOETXEA MARCAIDA, A. 1990. La Botánica y los Naturalistas de la Ilustración Vasca. Colección Ilustración Vasca. Volume I. The Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country.
M. SIGÜENZA, M. N. y GOICOETXEA MARCAIDA, A. 1992. Envíos de plantas medicinales de América y Filipinas por algunos socios de la Bascongada. Third Seminar on the History of the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country. BBV Foundation. Documenta. The Bascongada Society and America.
MONTAGUT CONTRERAS, E. 2000. La Sociedad Bascongada y la defensa de los árboles en el siglo XVIII. Lecture presented on the occasion of the Investiture Ceremony for New Members, 22 June 2000. General Meeting.
ROMAN POLO, P. 2000. Los hermanos Delhuyar, la Bascongada y el Wolframio. The Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country. Biscay Chapter.
URDIAIN MARTINEZ, M. C. 2007. Las Ciencias de la Naturaleza en la biografía de un ilustrado. Lorenzo de Prestamero y Sodupe 1733-1817. The Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country. Álava Chapter.

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