Digital History>eXplorations>Columbus & the Columbian Exchange>The Columbian Exchange>Origins of Vegetables


This map shows the sites of domestication for a number of crops.
Places where crops were initially domesticated are called centres of origin
This image is from the USDA.

Sources for more information:

Origins of Selected Plants
beans "Faba beans probably originated in the Near East in late Neolithic times. By the Bronze Age they had spread at least to Northern Italy and have been found in several lakeside dwellings in Switzerland. The earliest findings in Britain date back to the Iron Age at Glastonbury. They were widely cultivated in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome."
from the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA)
corn (maize) "It is usually accepted that maize was growing in Meosamerica by betweent 8000 and 5000 B.C. Reliable archaeolgical evidence of domesticated maize dates from as long ago as 3600 B.C. in what is now central Mexico, and it is thought that domestication of the crop first took place--doubtless at a much earlier date--in this general area. To the south, a separate domestication of maize may have been accomplished at about the same time by South American Indians in the central Andes, or the crop may simply have traveled to that area from its point of origin."
from the Cambridge World History of Food by Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas, Cambridge University Press:Cambridge, Volume Two, 2000, p. 1805-6.
manioc "A University of Colorado at Boulder team excavating an ancient Maya village in El Salvador buried by a volcanic eruption 1,400 years ago has discovered an ancient field of manioc, the first evidence for cultivation of the calorie-rich tuber in the New World...Archaeologists had suspected ancient Mayans had cultivated and consumed manioc for its high-energy value, he said. Also known as cassava, manioc provides one of the highest yields of food energy per acre per day of any cultivated crop in the world."
from a University of Colorado Boulder press release, Aug. 20, 2007
melons "The culture of the watermelon goes back to prehistoric times. It was grown by the ancient Egyptians, as revealed by pictures that survive to the present. Old names in Arabic, Berber, Sanskrit, Spanish, and Sardinian are all unrelated, indicating great antiquity of culture in lands about the Mediterranean and east as far as India. The long and general culture of the watermelon from North Africa to middle Asia led to the view that it was of Asiatic origin, although it had never been found wild in Asia or elsewhere. Finally, however, about a hundred years ago, the great missionary-explorer, David Livingstone, settled the question of its origin. He found large tracts in central Africa literally covered with watermelons growing truly wild."
from "Our Vegetable Travelers" by Victor R. Boswell, National Geographic Magazine, 1949, Volume 96(2).
peanuts "The archaeological records supports its [the peanut's] cultivation between 300 and 2500 BC in Peruvian desert oases... The cultivated peanut was likely first domesticated in the valleys of the Paraguay and Prarana rivers in the Chaco region of South America. The plant is believed to have been originally domesticated by predecessors of the Arawak- speaking peoples who now live in its homeland. The first written account of the crop is found with the Spanish entry into Hispanola in 1502, where the Arawak cultivated under the name of mani. Records from Brazil around 1550 showed the crop was known there with the name mandubi. Early Spanish and Portuguese accounts record the presence of crop through of the West Indies and South America."
from World Georgraphy of the Peanut, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Georgia
peppers "Fragments of different types of peppers have been found in Peruvian ruins believed to be more than 2,000 years old. Fruits of the pepper are unmistakably illustrated in the elaborate embroidery of an Indian garment unearthed near the coast of Peru and believed to date back to about the first century. The Olmecs, Toltecs, and Aztecs also are known to have cultivated and used peppers extensively. In the first half of the 16th century, voyagers to the Americas encountered many forms of peppers, not only in the West Indies but in Central America, Mexico, Peru, Chile-wherever they touched the American Tropics. By the beginning of the 17th century virtually every form known today had been found, all being grown by the Indians."
from "Our Vegetable Travelers" by Victor R. Boswell, National Geographic Magazine, 1949, Volume 96(2).
potatoes "The potato originated in the South American Andes, but its heartland of wild genetic diversity reaches from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile across the Pampa and Chaco regions of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil and northward into Central America, Mexico, and the southwestern United States. There are more than 200 wild potato species in this wide habitat that extends from high cold mountains and plateaus into warmer valleys and subtropical forests and drier semiarid intermontane basins and coastal valleys."
from the Cambridge World History of Food, section written by Ellen Messer
pumpkins "Pumpkins have been grown in North America for five thousand years. They are indigenous to the western hemisphere. In 1584, after French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region of North America, he reported finding "gros melons." The name was translated into English as "pompions," which has since evolved into the modern "pumpkin."
from the History Channel's History of Halloween
radishes "China is believed to be the country of origin, since truly wild forms have been found there. Middle Asia appears to be a secondary center where many different forms developed after the plant was introduced from China in prehistoric times. Ancient Egyptian records show that radishes were a common food in Egypt before the Pyramids were built. Radishes were so highly valued by the ancient Greeks that small replicas of them were made in gold; beets were shown in silver and turnips in lead. The Greeks of the third century B.C. wrote of the radishes of their day, and an ancient Greek physician wrote a whole book about the plant. The Romans, at the beginning of the Christian Era, also were familiar with the radish. Their writers described various kinds, including the small, mild, early, round, and long forms (like ours) as well as the large later types weighing several pounds each."
from "Our Vegetable Travelers" by Victor R. Boswell, National Geographic Magazine, 1949, Volume 96(2).
squash "The earliest records of human use of edible cucurbits [squash family] has come from Mexico; caches of seeds of squashes have been found from habitations older than 9000 years, and certainly by 5000 B.C. In the New World, squashes and pumpkins were used as a major food crop (planted) by native peoples and became a major part of the diet of the Pilgrims, apparently a prominent food at the first Thanksgiving feast and all subsequent ones.
from "Plants and Civilization" by Professor Arthur C. Gibson, UCLA
sweet potatoes "It is though that Ipomoea batatas [sweet potatoes] originated from an unremarkable trailing climber (vine) on the mainland, probably in Central America...Sweet potato was already an important crop on Pacific islands when Europeans landed on the islands: Easter Island (Roggeveen, 1722), New Zealand (Cook, 1769), and the Hawaiian Islands (Cook, 1778). Sweet potato, known as kumara, was a staple in the diet of the Maoris of New Zealand; interestingly, the name kumar is used for this plant in Peru! Rongo ma-Tane, a Maori god, protects this plant; a buried tuber is powerful enough to cause enemy to go mad and run away.
from "Plants and Civilization" by Professor Arthur C. Gibson, UCLA
tomatoes "Although it is unclear where tomatoes may have been first domesticated, the two main possibilities are Peru and Mexico. The wild forms may have originated in either area, but it was the indigenous peoples of Mexico that first cultivated them. In fact, the common name tomato comes from tomatl, the word for this plant in the Nahuatl language of Mexico. In his 1544 herbal, Matthiolus documents the existence of tomatoes in Italy and also reports that Italians ate them. Vernon Quinn proposes that the Spanish explorers brought it back to Spain from Mexico and that a Moor brought it to Tangiers and, from there, an Italian brought it to Italy where it was called Moor's apple, pomo dei mori, and a name with a similar sound, poma amoris, but a different meaning: love apple. Similarly, the French referred to it as love apple, pomme d'amour."
from Ethnobotanical Leaflets International Web Journal


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