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Article: Plants - Where Do They Come From?

Created on: Monday, June 09, 2003

As a result of man's explorations and migrations, we enjoy a vast diversity of agricultural and ornamental crops. It's so easy to get caught up in the beauty of the plants we use in our flower gardens, or the size and flavor of our favorites in a vegetable garden, that we seldom stop to consider where these plants originated. Sometimes knowing where a plant came from can clue us to its needs in our environment, and by being more aware, we can more easily make plants thrive. And, as a plant person, I just find this information very interesting. China, earth's earliest center of agriculture, has given us cherries, oranges, eggplant, spinach and wheat for the table and daylilies, forsythias, hydrangea, chrysanthemums and peonies for the garden. From Japan come our azaleas and roses; from the Middle East, cotton, garlic, grapes, carrots and apples. The Mediterranean gave us lettuce, onions, celery, and hyacinths, snapdragons and alyssum. South American contributions include peppers, corn, potato and tomato, fuchsia, petunia, portulaca, morning glory and poinsettia. Africa sent us African violets, gladiolus, lobelia, impatiens, peas, beans and coffee. From Europe came many of our beloved cottage garden flowers like pansies, foxglove, primroses and lilies of the valley. And why do black-eyed Susans, columbines and coreopsis, daisies and sunflowers grow so well for all of us here in New England? Because they're right at home, of course! Then, too, we must consider each plant's specific environment or microclimate. Alpines, for instance, grow naturally above the timberline - to ask them to perform at sea level may pose a challenge. Their low profile and compact form, which suits them well in a windy, snowy site, may prove also to be an asset at the seashore, but the longer growing season our climate affords may mean that they appear relatively short-flowering or especially thirsty during our summer droughts. Plants struggle remarkably to adapt to changes in their environment. By understanding more about their origins, perhaps we can make them feel more at home in our gardens.

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