Over the years, humans have compiled an impressive compendium of horticultural techniques through trial and error. The earliest written records of horticultural practices are from the first millennium b.c. in China, Mesopotamia (now called Iraq), and Egypt, followed by Greece and Rome. Some of the practices mentioned in these ancient writings include the use of iron tools; manure applications; crop rotation; double cropping; large-scale irrigation projects; pollination, pruning, and grafting of fruit trees; pest and disease control; as well as the identification, classification, and use of plants. Many of these methods are still applied today. These texts also describe methods that may not have been in common use even in ancient times. Similarly, modern texts on cultural methods include some practices that are not widely used but that have been documented nonetheless.
Ancient Egyptians created formal gardens with pools, a spice and perfume industry, and collections of medicinal plants. Mesopotamia had irrigated terraces, gardens, and parks. Significant contributions to taxonomy and plant physiology were made by the Greeks. Romans fostered the development of ornamental horticulture with topiary gardens, and they also used rudimentary greenhouses made of mica to force vegetable production.
The majority of the popular edible plants we grow today were cultured by these ancient civilizations as well as those found in Central and South America. Many cultivars (cultivated variety) were generated from wild plants by 2000 b.c. Since our ancestors had a remarkable knowledge of wild, edible food plants—likely unsurpassed by contemporary humans—it is probable that they succeeded in the cultivation of the majority of plants that can be used for this purpose. Comparatively few new food plants have been domesticated in recent times, although many new varieties or cultivars of the ancient plants have been bred since then.
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