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Book: International Germplasm Transfer: Past and Present
Published by: Crop Science Society of America and American Society of Agronomy



  1.  p. 69-80
    CSSA Special Publication 23.
    International Germplasm Transfer: Past and Present

    Ronny R. Duncan (ed.)

    ISBN: 978-0-89118-602-1


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The Columbus Effect on Industrial and Medicinal Plants

  1. James A. Duke
  1. USDA -ARS Beltsville, Maryland



Some major shifts from centers of origin and/or diversity (centric) to eccentric centers of production have taken place among nonfood crops since Columbus. In this chapter, the term eccentric refers to areas of production that were not original centers of origin. Industrial crops with eccentric production centers include cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) and coffee (Coffea arabica L.) among the beverage plants; peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.), rape (Brassica napus L.), soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], and sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) among oilseeds, cardamoms [Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton], cloves [Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. & Perry], paprika (Capsicum annuum L.), and vanilla (Vanilla planifolia Andrews) among major spices; citrus (Citrus sp.), and mint (Mentha sp.) among essential oils; aloe [Aloe vera (L.) Burman f.], castorbean (Ricinus communis L.), opium (Papaver somniferum L.), papain (an enzyme from unripe fruit of the papaya), periwinkle [Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don], and quinine (Cinchona officinalis L.) among medicinals; and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) and rubber [Hevea brasiliensis Willd ex. A. Juss.) Mull. Arg.], among industrial crops. Among beverage plants, cacao moved from America to Africa, while coffee moved the other direction. The orient remains the main center of production of tea [Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntzel, though it is grown on a smaller scale in most subtropical countries. Sugar (Saccharum officinarum L.) to sweeten these beverages, moved with the slaves who provided the labor for this labor intensive crop. The malaria cure, quinine, moved overseas, perhaps even before malaria arrived at quinine's American center of origin. Other important American drugs were not so mobile; pilocarpus (Pilocarpus sp.), curare (Chondrodendron tomentosum Ruiz Lopez & Pavon), ipecac [Cephaëlis ipecacuanha (Brot.) Tussac.], still mostly produced near their centers of origin. The USA imports most of its castorbean, originally African, from Brazil. Texas now grows a substantial amount of African aloe. On the other hand, Adolf's meat tenderizer, based on America's papaya (Carica papaya L.) and its proteolytic enzyme, papain, was conceived while Adolf was visiting African cultivars of this American species. Spices, except for the New World's allspice [Pimenta dioica (L.) Merr.], bay rum [P. racemosa (Miller) J.W. Moore], capsicum (Capsicum sp.), and vanilla, had moved around quite a bit before Christ, much more before Columbus. Seeking black pepper (Piper nigrum L.), Columbus found instead the red pepper (Capsicum sp.) and changed the cuisines of the world. Brazil is challenging black pepper's native India for first place in black pepper production, just as Brazil challenges the USA, number one producer of the Chinese soybean, which is a major source of today's steroid drugs. Meanwhile, China has started growing American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.), a $90 million-dollar crude drug export from the USA. America's vanilla is largely produced in Madagascar. In a serendipitous situation, rubber was smuggled out of Brazil through Kew Gardens in England to Malaysia, leaving the rubber disease behind, so that Brazil is clearly playing second fiddle as a rubber producer. African slaves grew alien cotton and indigo (Indigofera tinctoria L.) in the new world, and briefly Asian tea graced some Charleston estates. Today, as a result of the Columbian exchange, more of these specialty crops are grown eccentrically rather than centrically.

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Copyright © 1995. Copyright © 1995 by the American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Crop Science Society of America, Inc., 5585 Guilford Rd., Madison, WI 53711 USA