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  Section: Introduction to Botany » Plants and Human Welfare
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Cultivated Plants

Plants and Human Welfare
  Feeding an Increasing Population
  Other Human Uses for Plants
  Cultivated Plants
  Viruses, Bacteria, and Fungi

Alphonse Louis Pierre Pyrame de Candolle (1806-1893) spent many years studying the origins of cultivated plants. The majority of our knowledge concerning cultivated plants comes from the in-depth studies of de Candolle, whose father, Augustine, was also a highly regarded botanist who contributed much to the formulation of a natural system of classification. Alphonse's son Anne (sic) collaborated with his father in botanical studies.

Several plants that have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years include almonds, apples, apricots, bananas, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, figs, grapes, lentils, peaches, pears, soybeans, tea, and wheat. Although the grass family is said to feed the world, only one of these foods is in the grass family: wheat. Apples, peaches, and pears belong to the rose family. Thus, while the grass family feeds the world, the rose family furnishes the dessert!

Alphonse de Candolle also cataloged several Old World species that have been cultivated for 2,000 years, were known to the Greek botanist Theophrastus (371/370-280/287 B.C.), and have been found at ancient, lakedweller sites. These include alfalfa, asparagus, beets, carrots, cherries, cotton, grapefruit, lemons, limes, lettuce, oats, plums, sugar cane, and yams. Again, only one of these is a grass.

Old World plants that have been cultivated for fewer than 2,000 years are interpreted in drawings found at Pompeii and are mentioned by Dioscorides. They include buckwheat, coffee, currents, gooseberries, horseradish, spinach, parsley, strawberries, and oranges.

Some plants long cultivated in the New World and before the time of Columbus include tobacco, maize, sweet potatoes, peanuts, pumpkins, squash, and vanilla. Several New World forms that came into cultivation after the time of Columbus are black cherries, black walnuts, blueberries, cinchona (the source of quinine), pecans, and rubber.

Much of our knowledge regarding genetics, metabolism, and morphology comes from the study of plants. People have learned how to produce seedless fruits; prevent the premature falling of fruit; greatly increase yield by breeding; create new species; cause plants to flower according to a specified schedule; develop selective herbicides; and produce drugs and vitamins-all through plant research.


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