Some Plant History

Some Plant History
The plants in our gardens have interesting pasts. Let’s follow the history for some of these.

Cotton has been cultivated for thousands of years. It is still mainly grown as an agricultural crop. However, it is also used as an ornamental, particularly in warm climates. Various species are native to the New World tropics as well as India and Africa.

The varieties with colored cotton bolls are the most attractive choices for gardens. Depending on the species, these are grown as evergreen shrubs. As an agricultural crop, it is treated as an annual for it blooms the first year from seed.

For the entire history of cotton, I refer you to a wonderful book. “The History of Cotton” by the South Carolina Cotton Museum at Bishopville, South Carolina was published by the Donning Company Publishers. This is distributed by the University of South Carolina Press.

Though this volume presents the entire history of cotton, the emphasis is on cotton’s role in the South. Readers can also learn about the South Carolina Cotton Trail and the museum. This is beautifully illustrated with 61 historic photos, many being from a historic collection of postcards.

As the popularity of wine continues to grow, the search is on to discover the roots of the plant. Though the industry is largely based on the so-called European grape (Vitis vinifera), there are any number of other species that are grown for other purposes. Some are bred with European vines to create European hybrids with desirable characteristics. Now, historians are able to gain help from modern chemistry in tracing the history of grapes and wine making. Scientists can now analyze the dregs left in historic old containers found by archaeologists.

Princeton University Press has published the definitive book on grape and wine history. “Ancient Wine-The Search for the Origins of Viniculture” by Patrick E. McGovern is history writing at its best. Thoroughly engaging, this is beautifully illustrated with photos of historical artifacts.

It presents everything that is known about the history of European grapes and wine making. The author draws upon all the scientific methods that are available to historians, including DNA. Readers will learn the role wine has played in ancient cultures from the time of the pharaohs to Mesopotamia and ancient Greece to the Holy Land. In fact, this book reveals that the history of wine is inseparable from the history of civilization.

While the European grape is the one of choice for wine, this plant isn’t without problems. It is prone to attack from serious diseases and pests. This story is told in another book. “The Botanist and the Vintner-How Wine Was Saved For the World” by Christy Campbell was published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

This volume is about one such problem that threatened to wipe out the entire wine making industry in both the Old and New World beginning during the mid-1860’s. The author explores why the French government offered a hefty prize to anyone who could come up with a remedy.

This book tells the dramatic story of how a French botanist ultimately discovered the cause of the devastating plague that was destroying European vineyards. The culprit was an aphid, which had been imported to Europe on some American grape vines. With the help of an American entomologist, he was able to come up with a solution to the aphids that were attacking the vineyards.

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