Plant Imperialism

Coffee from Ethiopia to Brazil, rubber from Brazil to Malaya... Lucile Brockway shows how the transfer of seeds and plants across continents has had enormous implications for the development of the economies of the countries concerned.

'The greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture,' wrote Thomas Jefferson. The movement of plants by human agency has affected the course of history. New staples have prevented famines, as when New World maize and sweet potato were introduced into China in the sixteenth century; they have supported population explosions, as when the Andean white potato spread throughout northern Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and fed the workers in tile burgeoning industrial cities. New plantation crops have helped to make some nations rich and others poorer, when a local plant-based industry was undermined by a plant transfer.

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