Botany and the Americas

William Gardener investigates the history of American flora and finds among its contributions to the health and happiness of Europe the not inconsiderable commodities of maize, the potato, rubber, tobacco, and quinine.

When the Spaniards climbed the cordillera of the Andes in Central America, they intruded on a civilization as ferocious as any of which there is record, and a landscape of gardens that must rank among the past wonders of the world. The thirst for gold, and the urge to discover and to proselytize, combined into one blast that swept away the rulers of ancient Mexico, and destroyed also the basis of their gardens. Even in the first generation of the new masters there were men who might have repeated:

vidi ego odorati victura rosaria Paesti

sub matutino cocta iacere Noto.

Mexico of the Aztecs was a forested country, its tableland covered with oak and sycamore, and cypress and cedar and larch and other conifers. The Valley of Mexico itself, at 7,000 feet and over, appeared as a great park, wherein the prevailing green was enlivened by yellow fields of maize, and the towering agave. The mass of trees attracted moisture and; in cities adjacent to the rich woodlands and orchards, royal and princely demesnes had been established, watered by canals and irrigation-ducts, and basins and fountains.

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