The pinsapo or Abies pinsapo Bois its more official name, is one of the most emblematic fir trees in Southern Spain. This tree was first scientifically catagolized in 1837 by the Swiss botanist Charles Edmond Boissier (1810-1885).
The tree can grow up to 30 metres tall and has a near regular conical shape with a perfectly straight trunk. Extreme weather conditions such as heavy snowfall and strong winds can however deform this venerable tree in a rather freakish way. I say venerable as its pedigree goes back all the way to the last Ice –Age. It is generally assumed that this tree can only be found in the Sierra de Grazalema, the Sierra Bermeja and the Sierra de Ronda. There are however many villages stating in their tourist brochures that their municipality is the only place where this tree can be found in the wild thus proving that truth and fiction sometimes grow very close together.
The name pinsapo is a contraction of the words pino (pine tree) and sapino (spruce) and the scientific name is ‘abies pinsapo Boiss’. The ideal circumstances whereby the tree thrives best are between 12 and 15 degrees centigrade and a high atmospheric hunidity.
The pinsapo has as well male as female cones (like all fir trees).
A few decennia ago no more than some 10.000 specimens were known of this tree but thanks to its protected status its numbers have now increased considerably. The tree has, as all fir trees, male and female cones. The male, found in the lower regions, are small and have a reddish colour whilst the female are small and green and later grow to 15 cms and attain a gray blueish colour.
Edmond Boissier started his botanic exploration of Andalucia in the year 1836. During the 19th century Spain witnessed the arrival of many romantic travellers and this Swiss botanist was one of them. He knew about the Spanish fir through Felix Haenseler and Pablo Prolongo who showed him branches of the tree in Málaga. On the 15th of May Boissier visited Estepona where a guide showed him the trees in the Sierra Bermeja.
In his book ‘Voyage Botanique dans le Midi de l’Espagne pendant l’annéee 1837’ he describes his observation as follows:
“The guide showed us the first pinsapo from afar; with shouts of joy we ran towards it but sadly anough the tree did not bear any fruit, a second and a third specimen were also fruitless but finally I saw a tree where the higher branches where laden with cones. We climbed the tree in order to pick some cones and there was no doubt that this singular tree was an abies, closely related to our common fir.”
During his active life Boissier classified more than 6000 new plants and wrote eight authorative tomes still used by botanists today.
In the year 1997 the 160th anniversary of his visit to Estepona was commemorated and the townhall decided to name the path that leads from the Refugio to the highest peak of the Sierra Bermeja after Boissier. The plaque shown in the picture was, less than a year ago, also adorned with a bust of the botanist, however, loutish behaviour has been the cause of its disappearance.
‘Voyage Botanique dans le Midi de l’Espangne’ is apart from an extensive compendium of the Spanish flora also an excellent travel guide for that time. It describes amongst others how Boissier climbed to the top of the Mulhacen (the highest mountain on the Spanish main) and his trip along the coast from Málaga to Cadiz.
The book consists of three tomes and was published in Paris between 1839 and 1845 and is partly illustrated by the author himself.
In the book Boissier describes how he bought a sturdy mule for his trip from Málaga to Estepona and aquired the services of a certain Antonio whom he describes as a typical inhabitant of Andalucia, a pleasant chatterbox who sang coplitas all day long and was always good humoured.
He describes Marbella as a place with dilapidated houses in a romantic environment and Estepona is described as a jolie petite ville. About a hostal in Alhaurin he is less enthousiastic because of the lice and a bunch of loudmouthed gypsies but otherwise the book is a hommage to the Spanish country side and its people.
In spite of the fact that around Ronda the saying still goes: Eres mas malo que la madera de pinsapo (you are worse than the wood of a pinsapo) this decorative tree now enjoys the admiration that it is more than entitled to due to its venerable status.