Alexander Cornelius mentions a tree called the lion-tree, the timber of which he says was used to build the Argo . . . which cannot be rotted by water or destroyed by fire . . . This tree is, so far as I am aware, unknown to anyone else.
Pliny the Elder
May well be extinct, and our one authority
is terse, but that surely speaks in his favour.
No wonder its timber was used on the Argo
– the ship that rent old Neptune’s slumber –
for in contact with seawater it neither rotted
nor buckled. A solitary, an isolate, it never
grew in groves but thrived in the vicinity
of clear springs. Spindly, tougher
than oak, more close-grained than gopherwood,
even its leaves, which were glaucous and spiky,
were defended against all folivores
except giraffes. Its small hard fruits, swathed
in bluish wool, were inedible and bitter
though only mildly toxic. It bore not the least resemblance
to a lion unless the noise the wind made
rattling its leaves gave rise to the name.
Perhaps it was the furious winds that finished it or else
the tree at last grew tired of existence.
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