fifteen plants -- 1/3/19

Today's encore selection -- from Big History: From Big Bang to the Present by Cynthia Stokes Brown. The significance of plant domestication and the fifteen most important plants:

"In the long view of time, the domestication of plants ... occurred nearly simultaneously in various parts of the world. In the short view of time, however, within a few thousand years some areas lagged behind others with fateful consequences. Because people in the Americas had no suitable grains and animals for early domestication, the evolution of complex societies there began 3,000 to 4,000 years later than in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. As a consequence, when Europeans arrived in the Americas in 1500 CE, they found societies in many ways comparable to those of the Middle East in about 2000 BCE. With their horses, guns, and diseases, products of their more evolved agrarian societies, Europeans were able to strangle the more slowly emerging civilizations of the Americas.

This map shows the sites of domestication for a number of crops. Places where crops were initially domesticated are called centers of origin. 

"People's experiments with plants between 9000 and 3000 BCE were so successful that no new basic food plants have been domesticated since then. The only exceptions seem to be cranberries, blueberries, and pecans, which were gathered by native North Americans but have been domesticated only in the last two centuries.

"Out of approximately 200,000 species of flowering plants, only about 3,000 have been used extensively for human food. Of these, only fifteen have been and continue to be of major importance: four grasses (wheat, rice, maize and sugar), six legumes (lentils, peas, vetches, beans, soybeans and peanuts) and five starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, maniocs and bananas)."



Cynthia Stokes Brown


Big History: From Big Bang to the Present


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York


Copyright 2007 by Cynthia Stokes Brown


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