This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
These are very extraordinary vegetables, growing in one of the Canary Islands, and likewise said to exist in some other places, which distil water from their leaves in such plenty, as to answer all the purposes of the inhabitants who live near them. Of these trees we have the following account, in Glasse's History of the Canary Islands. "There are three fountains of water in the whole island of Hiero, wherein the fountain tree grows. The larger cattle are watered at those fountains, and at a place where water distils from the leaves of a tree. Many writers have made mention of this famous tree, some in such a manner as to make it appear miraculous: others again deny the existence of any such tree; among whom is Father Feyjoo, a modern Spanish author. But he, and those who agree with him in this matter, are as much mistaken as those who would make it appear to be miraculous. The author of the History of the Discovery and Conquest, has given us a particular account of it, which I shall here relate at large.
"The district in which this tree stands is called Tigulabe; near to which, and in the cliff or steep rocky ascent that surrounds the whole island, is a gutter or gully, which commences at the sea, and continues to the summit of the cliff, where it joins or coincides with a valley, which is terminated by the steep front of a rock. On the top of this rock grows a tree, called, in the language of the ancient inhabitants, garse, sacred or holy tree, which for many years has been preserved sound, entire, and fresh. Its leaves constantly distill such a quantity of water as is sufficient to furnish drink to every living creature in Hiero, nature having provided this remedy for the drought of the island. It is situated about a league and a half from the sea. Nobody knows of what species it is, only that it is called til. It is distinct from other trees, and stands by itself. The circumference of the trunk is about twelve spans, the diameter four, and in height, from the ground to the top of the highest branch, forty spans : the circumference of all the branches together is 120 feet. The branches are thick and extended, the lowest commence about the height of an ell from the ground. Its fruit resembles the acorn, and tastes something like the kernel of a pine-apple, but is softer and more aromatic. The leaves of this tree resemble those of the laurel, but are larger, wider, and more curved; they come forth in a perpetual succession, so that the tree always remains green. Near to it grows a thorn, which fastens on many of its branches, and interweaves with them; and at a small distance from the garse are some beech-trees, bresoes, and thorns. On the north side of the trunk are two large tanks or cisterns, of rough stone, or rather one cistern divided, each half being twenty feet square, and sixteen spans in depth. One of these contains water for the drinking of the inhabitants ; and the other, that which they use for their cattle, washing, and such like purposes.
"Every morning, near this part of the island, a cloud or mist arises from the sea, which the south or easterly winds force against the forementioned steep cliff; so that the cloud, having no vent but by the gutter, gradually ascends it, and from thence advances slowly to the extremity of the valley, where it is stopped and checked by the front of the rock which terminates the valley; and then rests upon the thick leaves and wide spreading branches of the tree, from whence it distils in drops during the remainder of the day, until it is at length exhausted, in the same manner that we see water drip from the leaves of trees after a heavy shower of rain.
"This distillation is not peculiar to the garse or til, for the bresoes, which grow near it, likewise drop water; but their leaves being but few and narrow, the quantity is so trifling, that, though the natives save some of it, yet they make little or no account of any but what distils from the til; which, together with the water of some fountains, and what is saved in the winter season, is sufficient to serve them and their flocks. A person lives on the spot near which this tree grows, to take care of it and its waters; and is allowed a house to live in, with a certain salary. He every day distributes to each family of the district, seven pots or vessels full of water, besides what he gives to the principal people of the island."
Whether the tree which yields water at this present time, be the same as that mentioned in the above description, I cannot determine : but it is probable there has been a succession of them; for Pliny, describing; the Fortunate Island, says, In the mountains of Ombrion, are trees resembling the plant ferula, from which water may be procured by pressure. What comes from the black kind is bitter, but that which the white yields is sweet and potable." Trees yielding water are not peculiar to the island of Hiero; for travellers inform us of one of the same kind on the island of St. Thomas, in the bight or gulf of Guinea. In Cockburn's Voyages, we find the following account of a dropping tree, near the mountains of Fera Paz, in America.
"On the morning of the fourth day, we came out on a large plain, where were great numbers of fine deer; and in the middle stood a tree of unusual size, spreading its branches over a vast compass of ground. Curiosity led us up to it. We had perceived, at some distance, the ground about it to be wet; at which we began to be somewhat surprised, as well knowing there had no rain fallen for nearly six months past, according to the certain course of the season in that latitude : that it was impossible to be occasioned by the fall of dew on the tree, we were convinced, by the sun's having power to exhale away all moisture of that nature a few minutes after its rising. At last, to our great amazement, as well as joy, we saw water dropping, or as it were distilling, fast from the end of every leaf of this wonderful, (nor had it been amiss if I had said miraculous tree;) at least it was so with respect to us, who had been labouring four days through extreme heat, without receiving the least moisture, and were now almost expiring for the want of it. We could not help looking on this as liquor sent from heaven, to comfort us under great extremity. We catched what we could of it in our hands, and drank very plentifully of it; and liked it so well, that we could hardly prevail with ourselves to give over. A matter of this nature could not but incite us to make the strictest observations concerning it; and accordingly we staid under the tree near three hours, and found we could not fathom its body in five times. We observed the soil where it grew to be very strong; and upon the nicest inquiry we could afterwards make, both of the natives of the country and the Spanish inhabitants, we could not learn there was any such tree known throughout New Spain, nor perhaps all America over: but I do not relate this as a prodigy in nature, because I am no* philosopher enough to ascribe any natural cause for it; the learned may perhaps give substantial reasons in nature, for what appeared to us a great and marvellous secret, and far beyond our power to account for."