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Noon Edition

The Globalization Of Plants: From Colonization To Today

This History of Plant Migration

Plants were world travelers long before tourists like you and me were able to fly off to vacation around the world. When Columbus sailed west, he was seeking precious spices of the Indies. He missed his original destination, but, because he and other navigators ended up in the Americas, corn, sweet potatoes, and many other plants found their way abroad. It was Vasco da Gama who succeeded in bringing the treasured spices to Europe and most of the ancient mariners took seeds to plant on distant shores.

Many seeds were actually stowaways in the ballast of ships, and grew wherever the ballast was unloaded. When we vacation in the tropics, to escape cold winters, we are warmed by the sight of bright flowers basking in the sun. The globalization of so many flowering plants is awe-inspiring and they now act as if they are natives in their adopted lands:

  • Bougainvillea, native to parts of South America and named after the 18th century French navigator, Louis Bougainville, seems to be everywhere. I saw it recently on a trip to my native state of Queensland, in Australia and despite severe drought it was blooming with its characteristic exuberance.

  • Originally from Madagascar, the Poinciana trees were also aflame with orange-scarlet blooms.

  • Versatile hibiscus shrubs, have migrated from parts of South East Asia to become the world's signature tropical flower.

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