Across the Atlantic: Spain

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Processes and causes of marginalization: the introduction of American flora in Spain
Grain legumes for animal feed
Traditional varieties of grain legumes for human consumption
Neglected horticultural crops

Processes and causes of marginalization: the introduction of American flora in Spain

Neglected species
Arrival of american species
Models and causes of marginalization

A retrospective view of Spanish agriculture and the range of species cultivated during the last 500 years would clearly show the considerable change that has taken place regarding the nature of crops. These changes are evident not only through the gradual incorporation of American flora into the Iberian and island agricultural landscape (potato, maize, sunflower, beans, tomato, American cotton plants, avocados. custard apple, tobacco. etc.), but also through the loss of quite a few cultivated species during the centuries prior to Columbus's voyage. In fact, many species that have been forgotten in agriculture are now being discovered thanks to documentation from the Hispano-Roman period, which can be studied, for example, through Columela (first century); the Hispano-Visigothic period, to which Isidore of Seville refers (seventh century); or better still from the very abundant information passed down by the Andalusian agronomists of the Hispano-Arabic period - Arib Ibn Said (tenth century), Ibn Abi Yawad (tenth and eleventh centuries), Ibn Hayyay (eleventh century), Ibn Bassal (eleventh century). Al Tignari (?), Ibn al-Awamm (twelfth century) and Ibn Luyun (fourteenth century), among others.

We shall take as a reference southern Spanish agriculture of the fifteenth century. This is a subject for which valuable information is available thanks to the Hispano-Arabic authors of past centuries. It was primarily by way of Andalusia that exchanges of samples and seeds with America were to be promoted and carried out during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the centralization of trade, operated by the Casa de Indias in Seville.

Furthermore. it was the land of western Andalusia which the Spanish Crown initially had available for producing the wheat which was to teed the colonies of the New West Indies and make up for the cereal shortages recorded from the earliest times on American soil.

The conquest of western Andalusia by the Christian kings lasted from 150 to 200 years, beginning in the thirteenth century. Consequently, agriculture was to a large extent transformed on the basis of the Castilian model (cereal and livestock). However, in eastern Andalusia the Hispano-Muslims of the Nazari Kingdom had just been vanquished and not only their agricultural landscape and customs but also their own population had remained in the region for some time. Hieronymus Münzer, a traveller from Nuremberg who visited the Iberian peninsula between 1494 and 1495, described the Kingdom of Granada recently conquered by Christian armies and referred in admiring and respectful terms to Nazari agriculture, wich was organized into gardens and irrigated, drawing attention to the excellence of their cultivation techniques, the development of irrigation methods and the wide biodiversity of cultivated species and varieties, established on a notably tree-covered landscape.

The diversity of agricultural species was similar to what might have been imagined in the whole Iberian south from the tenth century onwards, until the Castilian feudalism inherited from the Visigoths gradually put an end to the more privatized, kitchen-garden agriculture of the Andalusian period. Through the Kitab al Filaha, the agriculture treatise by Ibn al-Awamm - certainly the most important and encyclopaedic of the medieval writings of the European west the main features of this landscape can be discovered. Arboreal crops dominated by olives, vines, almond trees, carob trees, fig trees, peach trees, apricot trees, apple trees, pear trees, medlar trees, quince trees, chestnut trees, walnut trees, pistachio trees, hawthorn trees, date palms, lemon trees, citron trees, sour orange trees, jujube trees, nettle trees, mulberry trees and hazelnut trees, as well as holm-oak, strawberry-tree and myrtle. Kitchen gardens with lettuces, carrots, radishes, cabbages, cauliflowers, melons, cucumbers, spinach, leeks, onions, aubergines, kidney beans, cardoons, artichokes, purslane and numerous aromatic plants (basil, cress, caraway, saffron, cumin, capers, mustard, marjoram, fennel, melissa, lemon verbena, thyme...).

Fields of cereals and pulses sown with wheat, barley, rice, millet, maize and spelt among the former; and broad beans, kidney beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, vetch, lupine and fenugreek among the latter. Sugar-cane crops on the coast of Almuñécar and Vélez-Málaga; fibre plants such as flax, cotton (Asian) and hemp; dye plants such as safflower, madder, henna, woad plant and saffron; and tanning plants such as sumac. Wild species such as esparto, osier and oil-palm were used; conchillas and silkworms were reared by cultivating their host plants; numerous ornamental species were planted in gardens and an enormous number of medicinal herbs were used. This was the agricultural landscape before 1492.

If we compare the agriculture of southern Spain under the Catholic kings with the official agriculture in Castilian Spain at the time of Alonso de Herrera (sixteenth century) as well as with that of the Austrians (Gregorio de los Ríos), that of the Enlightenment and Decline of the Empire (Lagasca, Rojas Clemente, Claudio and Esteban Boutelou, Arias and Costa) and that of the first half of the twentieth century (Dantin Cereceda), we can see there has been an obvious loss of a number of crops. We should therefore ask the following questions: Which were the marginalized species? Which were the American species introduced into Spain? How and which way did they arrive? What caused the marginalization of Iberian crops? Was this marginalization a consequence of the spread of the American species? What were the mechanisms of substitution or marginalization?

We shall now endeavour to answer each of these questions.

Neglected species

Widely different species have lost much of their importance, been marginalized or even completely forgotten. Some remain in the wild state, growing in ditches and on the boundaries of cultivation, as a testimony to their past agricultural use, and they even behave as weeds of other crops. Others have disappeared completely from Spanish agricultural flora. Here they are grouped under different headings according to their utilization.

Horticultural species

This is perhaps the group with the largest number of marginalized species, especially horticultural species which may be called bitter. The species involved are mainly consumed as greens (boiled, cooked in butter or oil or fresh in the form of salads). Some current gastronomies in Europe (and also in America because of the export of the crop and traditional consumption patterns) even use them preferentially as a garnish for meat. There are others which are very flavoursome and which are difficult to separate from their categorization as spices or aromatic plants. These include Amaranthaceae: Amaranthus lividus (blite); Apiaceae: Foeniculum vulgare (fennel), Pastinaca sativa (parsnip), Smyrnium olusatrum (alexanders or alisander); Asteraceae: Taraxacum officinale (dandelion), Silybum marianum (holy, milk thistle or lady's thistle), Cichorium intybus (chicory, succory or witloop), Scolymus maculatus (spotted golden thistle), Scolymus hispanicus (Spanish salsify, golden thistle or Spanish oyster plant), Tragopogon porrifolius (salsify or vegetable oyster), Scorzonera hispanica (scorzonera or black salsify); Boraginaceae: Borago officinalis (borage), Simphytum officinale (comfrey); Brassicaceae: Eruca vesicaria (rocket, garden or salad rocket), Nasturtium officinale (summer or green watercress), Lepidium sativum (cress), Armoracia rusticana (horse-radish); Polygonaceae: Rumex acetosa (sorrel) and other species of the genus: Portulacaceae: Portulaca oleracea (purslane); and Chenopodiaceae: Atriplex hortensis (orache), Chenopodium album (goosefoot or fat-hen).

Many other species may also have been cultivated or perhaps only utilized in their wild form, such as Silence inflata, Campanula rapunculus, Salsola spp., Chenopodium bonus-henricus, Bunias erucago, Barbarea verna, Cochlearia officinalis, Cardamine vulgaris, C. pratensis, Lepidium campestre, Rapistrum rugosum, Capsella spp., Crambe spp., Carduus benedictus, Carthamus coerulescens, C. arborescens, Arctium lappa, Reichardia picrioides, Calendula officinalis , Hyoseris radicata, Chrytmum maritimum, Eryngium maritimum, etc.


Included here are various grain legumes used as human food, animal feed or both, such as: Lathyrus sativus (grass pea, kasari, chickling vetch), Lathyrus cicera (vetchling, flat pod pea), Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek), Vicia ervilia (bitter vetch, lentil vetch), Vicia monanthos (one-flowered tare, one-leaved vetch), Vicia narbonensis (Narbonne vetch), Vigna sinensis (cowpea, black-eye bean, black-eyed pea).

For example, the latter were cultivated on the peninsula before American beans were known (Phaseolus spp., chiefly P. vulgaris). These would be mainly the species Vigna sinensis or perhaps al so Dolichos lablab, both Phaseolaceae of the Old World known for many centuries in the Mediterranean west, although cultivated especially in the Hispano-Arabic period. To appreciate the neglect or marginalization which these legumes have suffered as a consequence of the introduction of American beans (kidney beans, field beans and also green beans), it will be remembered that, according to the text of Ibn al-Awamm, at least 12 "species" (cultivars) of them were grown in Al-Andalus as a minimum, which bore names such as Marfilada, adivina, jacintina, aura or bermeja, de picaza, alfahareña, romana, etiópica, blanca, etc. This genetic biodiversity was accompanied by a wide diversity in the forms of consumption: as a vegetable (the pods, prepared with oil and vinegar), in soups together with salted fish, as a flour made from the seeds boiled in water, and as a puree prepared from this flour used to accompany other dishes, also seasoned with spices.

This group should also include a substantial proportion of the germplasm of other grain legumes, which are extensively used for human consumption and which today are grown abundantly, but whose infraspecific variability, at local variety or cultivar level, has been considerably reduced during the last few centuries; for example, Cicer arietinum (chickpea), Pisum sativum (garden pea), Vicia faba (broad bean) and Lens esculenta (lentil).

Cereals and other grains

We may mention the marginalization of Panicum miliaceum, Setaria italica, Pennisetum glaucum (Pearl millet, African or bulrush millet), spelt (Triticum spelta, T. dicoccon) and to a lesser extent sorghum (Sorghum spp.) among cereals, or the total neglect of other non-gramineous grain species once used as a source of carbohydrates. This is the case with bugloss (Anchusa officinalis or plantain (Plantago spp.). Hemp, flax and sesame also figured among the grain species that were known to the agronomists of past centuries.


Except for some local and very recent recovery, some species that were once frequently cultivated have now almost completely disappeared from cultivation on the peninsula. These are: citrus medica (citron tree), Pistacia vera (pistachio tree), Ziziphus lotus (lotus tree), Sorbus domestica (service tree or sorb tree), Crataegus azarolus (azarole), Celtis australis (hackberry or nettle tree) and Myrtus communis (myrtle).

Other species, which were perhaps of more importance, are gradually being reduced, put to other uses or grown in a more marginal way, such as Ficus carica (part of whose biodiversity has been lost in cultivation). Cydonia oblonga, Cernatonia siliqua , some citrus fruits such as zamboa or bergamot as well as local varieties of apple, pear, peach, etc.

Aromatic, perfume, dyestuff, colouring and tanning plants

Although some spices and aromatic plants such as saffron have withstood the passing of the centuries, others have lost their importance and have been partially or completely replaced by the introduced American species (Capsicum spp., in particular) or as a result of intensification of the international spices market. This is the case, for example, with garden cress and some mustards. Today, certain European and Mediterranean aromatic plants are perhaps cultivated much more or used much more in Latin American cooking than in Spanish cooking (coriander and rosemary, for example). Of the dyestuff plants, the cultivation of plants such as the woad plant (Isatis tinctoria), henna (Lawsonia inermis), dyer's mignonette (Resedu lutea) has been lost and a similar thing has occurred with tanning plants such as sumac (Rhus coriaria).

Arrival of American species

Sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

American species began arriving in Europe with Columbus, thus ushering in an irregular but continuous process in the transfer of germplasm and ethnobotanical information relating to the use of new American crops; this is still going on and is currently even being stepped up. The causes, arrangements and places of arrival as well as the nature of the species brought from America to Spain during the first two centuries of trade are known through the accounts of the same voyages made by Columbus and, later, from the accounts by the chroniclers of the Indies (Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Bernardino de Sahagún, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Jose de Acosta, the Incan Garcilaso de la Vega and Bernabé Cobo), together with the narrations of others who did not cross the Atlantic, such as Francisco Lopez de Gomara, Pedro Mártir de Anglería and Andrés Bernáldez. The work of the doctor and naturalist from Seville, Nicolas Monardes, along with the plant catalogues in various herbaria and botanical gardens of the time such as those of Castore Durante, Jacques Daleachampe, John Gerard, Charles l'Ecluse (Clusius) and James Donn are also basic reference documents. Finally, the enormous mass of information contained in the Archivo general de Indias is a monumental source of direct, official information on the transport of all kinds of goods - including plant germplasm -between the New World and Spain We have consulted a small part of the texts, although the 14 million documents still contain numerous unpublished data on the subject.

In the first decade which followed the at-rival of Columbus on the American coast. special arrangements applied to some extent as regards the Spanish Crown's economic/commercial treatment of its new colonies. In the edict issued to govern Columbus's second crossing. there is clear evidence of the attempt to control rigorously the number of people, animals, plants, minerals and objects crossing the sea in either direction. Although this was the initial spirit in 1493, two years later, responding to the expectation which arose as a result of events, the Crown allowed all its subjects to travel to the West Indies to settle, explore or engage in trade, although always under very stringent and certainly onerous conditions. Around 1501, the policy of the Catholic kings changed again, with severer restrictions being imposed on tree trade: no one could settle, discover or explore in the new territories without royal approval. To put an end to these waverings, the Casa de Contratación de las Indias was established in 1503 with its headquarters in Seville: over the next two centuries it was to exercise iron control over the traffic of people and goods with America.

In spite of the initial theoretical motives of Columbus's voyage, his descriptions and his admiration for the natural beauty of the islands discovered, and in spire of the tact that some contemporary historians cling to the interpretation that the plant world was also a part of the interests and motivations of the Spanish adventurers of the sixteenth century, we are more inclined to accept the view that the conveyance of plants became a very secondary objective compared with the feverish desire for gold and other metals; Columbus himself was a victim of it during his first voyage.

At the outset, what was the overall attitude of the Europeans towards the vast ethnobotanical culture of the Amerindian peoples and the ancestral agricultural tradition of many of their ethnic groups? Surprise and curiosity, naturally, but also traces of reticence and distrust which were even reflected in contempt for, and the persecution of. some native cultures (the Huautli). From Spain, the main foods and herbs which constituted the diet and official medicine were sent on a massive scale. For example, when in Mexico in 1524, Cortés asked Spain "that each ship should carry a certain number of plants and should not sail without them, because this will be very important for the population and its perpetuation".

During the first decades of the sixteenth century , the sowing of wheat was persistently attempted in the new lands. Juan Garrido and Alonso Martín de Xerez, were the first to sow it successfully in New Spain and Beatriz de Salcedo in Peru As early as 1531, there were people specializing in this crop on American territories, in spite of the many difficulties that cereal arming encountered among the Indians. In view of the inability of the colonies to become self-sufficient in wheat, it was decided that western Andalusia should become the granary of the New World and that colonists interested in the pursuit of metal should he fed with Andalusian flour. However, Andalusia was not even able to provide for its own needs. Famine raged and periods of high mortality were recorded in Andalusia. Wheat was finally imported from Sicily and Naples info Seville, whence it was taken to America.

During this first half of the sixteenth century, the seeds of many vegetables were also sent. The species most quoted in the documents kept in the Archivo de Indias include: cabbage. turnip. radish, borage, bottle gourd, Savoy cabbage, carrot, spinach, aubergine. lettuce cucumber, cardoon. onions, spring onions, cucumbers, garden cress, melon, purslane and celery. There were also many spices and aromatic plants such as mustard, basil, rosemary, lavender, fennel, rue, coriander, cumin, hempseed, parsley, oregano and aniseed. These attempts at introducing species which would finally end up neglected in the mother country (borage, garden cress, purslane...) seems nothing less than shocking. In 1520, Cortés informed Charles V that, at the market of Tenochtitlán, onions, leeks, garlic, garden cress, borage, sorrel, cardoons and golden thistle were already to be seen. Some of these greens, such as spinach, beet and garden cress, were subsequently to lose their importance but others, such as the cardoon, cabbage, lettuce, radish, broad bean, turnip and carrot, were the vegetables most eaten in Mexico City in 1526.

With this attitude and policy of imposing European agriculture, crops and methods of consumption on America, the process of incorporating local agricultural cultivation, transporting plant species to Spain and assimilating the ethnobotanical knowledge of the indigenous races took place in a climate of indifference, randomness and disorganization. Spain was to prove much more an instrument for extending Europe's influence in the New World than a channel for American plant germplasm to reach the Old Continent. Up to the mid-sixteenth century, plant species reached Europe generally as a result of private initiatives. It was an activity which began with the first voyage of Columbus, transporting potatoes or sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) to ensure provisions for his crew during the return journey. From then on, a long succession of plants crossed the Atlantic and were unloaded in Spanish ports, chiefly in Andalusia. There was a gradual flow of maize (Zea mays), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), gourds (Cucurbita spp.), chili (Capsicum annuum) , upland cotton -trees (Gossypium hirsutum), cassava (Manihot esculenta), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum and N. rustica) groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), maguey (Agave americana), pirú or American mastic (Schinus molle), pineapple (Ananas comosus), Peruvian mastic (Bursera simaruba), jalap (Ipomoea purga), black sapote (Diospyros digyna), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), peachwood (Haematoxylon brasiletto), balsam (Myroxylon balsamum), sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), Bumelia persimilis, star apple (Chrysophyllum cainito), Indian cress, nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), cocoa (Theobroma cacao), marigold (Tagetes spp.), tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum), guaiacum (Guaiacum sanctum), prickly pear (Opuntia spp. and Nopalea cochenillifera) and dorstenia (Dorstenia contrajerva), etc.

Details of the arrival of many of these plants will probably never be known because of the excessive zeal of the Crown in checking ships' cargoes. For this reason, the ports of Vigo, Corunna, Santander, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Malaga, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Cadiz were frequently used as an alternative to the port of Seville where unloading was rigorously checked by officials from the Casa de la Contratación In this way, many goods were not recorded, including many of these plant species which in principle did not seem to have a real commercial value. Hence they were almost always planted and distributed in the fields before being identified by scholars, so that their first botanical or ethnobotanical descriptions on European soil were very much later than their date of arrival on the continent.

The situation changed considerably after the publication in 1574 of Historia medicinal de las cosas que se trace de nuestras Indias Occidentales by Nicolas Monardes, a doctor from Seville, who drew attention to the potential of the new medicinal herbs and their cultivation in Spain. His work was distributed widely and was of decisive importance for other, more rigorous and later works such as those of Dodoens, l'Obel and l'Ecluse at the dawn of the seventeenth century. This is how species such as the following came to be described: flor de manita (Chiranthodendron pentadactylon), potato (Solanum tuberosum), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), white cedar or American arbor vitae (Thuja occidentalis), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), thorn apple, Jimson or Jamestown weed (Datura stramonium), physic nut, purging nut or pulza (Jatropha curcas), sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.), avocado (Persea americana), quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), Indian cane (Canna indica), copal (Protium copal or Bursera spp.), annato, arnatto or roucou (Bixa orellana), guava (Psidium guajava), soapberry tree (Sapindus saponatia), soursop (Annona muricata) and papaw (Carica papaya) etc.

During the seventeenth century this situation persisted while, at the same time, the European upper class developed a certain taste for the exotic, which was to the advantage of the cultivation of many of the species arriving from America as ornamental plants. After these plants had crossed the Atlantic, the reasons for their use were forgotten in their area of origin, and the ethnobotanical information relating to their properties and applications was completely lost except for a certain percentage of medicinal plants - and, although important species for human consumption were involved, the primary and indeed exclusive use for quite some time in the majority of cases was ornamental. This phenomenon was so widespread that, out of 146 American species known in Europe at the end of the seventeenth century, 44 were used in Spain as ornamental plants, while only one was used as such on the New Continent (Tigridia pavonia, the Aztec oceloxochitl or tiger flower). Much earlier, in Agricultura de jardines written by Gregorio de los Rios between 1590 and 1591 and published in 1604, some 200 species used in the gardens of Castile are mentioned and 16 of them are of American origin. These include Phaseolus vulgaris Capsicum annuum, Capsicum frutescens, Helianthus annuus, Lycopersicon esculentum and others which, at the time, appeared to be only of interest as ornamental plants.

Eighteenth century: the Enlightenment

The first encounter between the interests of the Crown and those of the enlightened scholars came when the Bourbon dynasty acceded to the throne. These new dynamics, which were absent under the Austrians - except for the feeble support given by Philip II to the Protomedicato of Francisco Hernandez - encompassed natural history, and consequently botany, within the eighteenth century conception. This concept recognized the need to obtain more and better information on the planet's biological and geological riches as a means of utilizing them more profitably. There were also reasons of state for reappraising the role of agriculture (which had ranked very low on the social scale since the Catholic kings) and these led to a heightened interest in the introduction of new crops and products into the empire's commercial channels.

This profound change in thinking and political conception began during the reigns of Philip V and Ferdinand VI and reached its height with the reign of Charles III. Under this monarch, not only was academic interest in the plant world encouraged, beginning with the creation of botanical gardens for example, but scientific expeditions to America were even organized under orders to catalogue the biodiversity of the overseas colonies in order to increase both resources and national prestige. Special attention was to be given to medicinal plants and those capable of certain particular uses, as in the case of dyestuff plants. This is how hundreds of different species arrived in Spain in the form of seed, live plants, herbarium specimens, identifiable fragments, etc.

The only objection to this policy which can be pointed out relates to drawbacks inherent in the centralism imposed by the monarchical absolutism of the time. The material was inexorably conveyed first to Madrid, where the Royal Botanical Garden played a prominent role, whence the plants were then distributed centrifugally. The Royal Gardens of Aranjuez were also to play a particularly important role; here, American species such as Magnoliu grandiflora. Liriodendron tulipifera, Acer saccharum, Acer negundo, Robinia pseudoacacia, etc. are known to have prospered in the second half of the eighteenth century. The long period of transportation, together with the harsh winter climate of the Castilian plateau, meant that most specimens ultimately perished. The creation of acclimatization botanical gardens on the coastal periphery of Iberia and the islands (Orotava, Valencia, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, etc.) only partly remedied these difficulties.

Nineteenth century

During this century, the unifying trends of the social, political and scientific attitudes of the Enlightenment were slower. The traditional difficulties affecting the free and rapid propagation of thinking surfaced once again. Almost all natural history research projects were suspended. Spain's relations with America were limited to a continuous process of decolonization of the old territories of the West Indies.

To assess the extent of transfer of American species to Spain, the data provided by the Memoria sobre los productos de la agricultura española compiled for the General Exhibition held in Madrid in 1857, on the "mountain" of Príncipe Pío may be used. The catalogue of products that the organizers considered as having potentially constituted the exhibition lists a total of 640 plant species of economic interest, of which 130 of American origin, which were typical of any place on the Spanish mainland and the Balearic and Canary Islands. They were basically food, industrial and forestry (timber) species. The edible "roots" mentioned included potatoes (from Ciudad Real, Corunna and Toledo), sweet potatoes (from Malaga, Murcia and Valencia) and Jerusalem artichokes (from Madrid). Cereals included maize (from Corunna, Oviedo, Santander, Barcelona. Valencia and Murcia). The section on other flour grains included quinoa (from Valencia and Zaragoza). Among vegetables were gourds (from Murcia and Valencia), peppers and pimentos (from Murcia, Logroño and Madrid), tomatoes (from Murcia), Chile strawberries (from Madrid), tropical pineapples (from Barcelona) and Indian cress (from Madrid). Legumes included beans (specifically quoted as Phaseolus vulgaris from Barcelona, Valencia, Murcia, Oviedo. Avila, Segovia and Madrid) and groundnuts (from Valencia). Fruit-trees included the cherimoya (from Cadiz, Malaga and Valencia), pecan and hickory (from Barcelona, Cadiz, Madrid and Valencia), sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera) (from Malaga) and avocado (from Valencia). Among industrial plants, indigo from the Canary Islands was mentioned. The presence of some species now lost and the absence of other American species that are now better known in Spanish agriculture, such as sunflower, upland or hairy cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) papaya, babaco, jojoba, etc., may be noted.

Current trends

During and especially towards the end of the twentieth century, we can observe a massive cosmopolitization of genetic resources, resulting not only from the more rapid flow of genes and information (the elimination of natural frontiers, the technological revolution and the intensification of communications) but also from the aggressive economic policies applied in the agricultural sector. Species and varieties are being introduced and replaced at a rapid rate? causing enormous variations in the agricultural landscape, products and forms of consumption. A frantic search for greater productivity has led to the so-called green revolution, a model of agriculture which, to a great extent. has made it necessary to backtrack as regards agricultural policies. The risks of an extreme oversimplification of the genotypes in production have jeopardized the conservation of the planet's agricultural biodiversity and caused an irreversible loss of genes, traditions of use and consumption, resulting in excessive homogenization of the forms of life and survival of humanity. At the end of the century, an effort is now being made to correct these extremes: unfortunately. however, a race to appropriate a new element of power and control -the planet's plant genetic resources - is also beginning.

In recent times, important substitutions have occurred in Spanish agriculture through the invasion of American species and varieties. An example of this is the pine strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) replacing the European or wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), which used to grow wild in the deciduous forests of Spain. Cultivation of sunflowers has considerably reduced the olive growing area. Some models of Mediterranean agriculture have been replaced by distinctly American patterns. For example, on the coast of Granada and Malaga, the agricultural landscape of carobs, figs, vines (for raisins) and olives has given way to avocados, cherimoyas and, more recently, trials have been carried out with papaw and babaco. Horticulture under plastic in that same region, which has almost completely eliminated sugar cane, produces essentially American species: tomatoes, pimientos, gourds, beans and groundnuts. Extra early potatoes and sweet potatoes appear outside at the end of autumn. Even the traditional varieties of vine have had to be grafted on to American rootstock that is resist ant to phylloxera. The degree of "Americanization" of Spanish agriculture is clear: the whole of traditional Spanish gastronomy is governed by American plants: the Asturian fabada, potatoes in picón sauce from the Canaries, Rioja peppers, Andalusian gazpacho or the Catalan escalibada, to mention just a few dishes, require the plant genes of the New World.

Models and causes of marginalization

Before drawing up an overall assessment or conclusive opinion on the role of American flora as protagonist in the partial or total displacement of certain crops, we need to recall the origin of the agricultural biodiversity of the pre-Columbian Iberian territories and the historical events for which they provided the setting during the first decades of Spanish colonization in America.

While Spanish settlers imposed a specific model of agriculture in the New World, attempted to introduce European crops and scorned many of the species used by the Amerindian ethnic groups or caused their marginalization, a persecution and marginalization of the Andalusian farming culture also occurred on the Iberian Peninsula. The final capture of the Kingdom of Granada by the Castilian armies of the Catholic kings, the expulsion of the Jews and Moors later, the persecution of the Hispano-Arabic culture including the burning of libraries - caused a sudden change in the agricultural structure of many of the Iberian territories, especially in the south. Clear evidence of this retrogression may be seen by comparing the richness - the species mentioned. authors referred to and even concepts - of the work of Ibn al-Awamm (Abu Zacaría) with that of Alonso de Herrera, the priest who, more than 350 years after the Sevillian Arab (twelfth century), was commissioned by Cardinal Cisneros to write a treatise on agriculture in the first decade of the sixteenth century, in view of the "absence of treatises on this subject". Only one-third of the species quoted by Ibn al-Awamm are mentioned by Alonso de Herrera. It should be noted in some cases that rather than "neglect" we may talk of "persecution", as in the case of certain bitter or aromatic vegetables in which the puritan citizens of imperial Spain found aphrodisiac, or simply stimulating, effects. This occurred, for example, with rocket (Eruca saliva) and even insinuations concerning garlic can be read in the work of Alonso de Herrera.

The repercussions of the introduction of American flora became apparent gradually, at first with a considerable inertia lasting at least one or two centuries, and became evident only in very recent times. Patterns of competition, substitution or marginalization assumed various forms.

Substitution is more or less total between crops of identical or equivalent use, that is to say between species which could be termed ethnovicarious: for example, Vigna sinensis replaced by Phaseolus vulgaris (kidney bean); Lagenaria siceraria (calabash or bottle gourd) replaced by Cucurbita spp. (particularly by Cucurbita pepo); Fragaria vesca (European or wild strawberry) replaced by Fragaria x ananassa (pine strawberry); Gossypium herbaceum (levant cotton) replaced by Gossypium hirsutum (upland cotton).

The substitution which took place in a similar way but which resulted in only partial elimination, eventually made the two crops sympatric: this happened with Olea europaea (the olive), whose cultivation area was reduced by that of Helianthus annuus (sunflower); Panicum miliaceum, Setaria italica, Pennisetum glaucum (pearl, African or bulrush millet) and to a lesser extent Sorghum spp., which were replaced by Zea mays (maize); and Juglans regia (English walnut) replaced by Juglans nigra (black walnut) and Carya illinoensis (pecan).

In other cases, replacement was not exactly equivalent as regards the yield obtained, even though it involved similar crops. This occurred, for example, with root or tuber species grown in Europe before 1492, such as salsify, parsnip, alexanders or horse-radish, which virtually disappeared in the face of the sweet potato, Jerusalem artichoke and especially the potato - which were incomparably richer and more productive as far as carbohydrates were concerned -and even though other plants of the same group of Andean origin did not manage to become established (mace, oca, ullucu, mashwa, etc.). In this battle, there was one Mediterranean species which fared well: the carrot.

We may also talk of substitution and marginalization among ornamental species: American cypresses vis-á-vis Cupressus sempervirens; Bougainvillea spp. vis-á-vis jasmine, ivy and honeysuckle; hybrids between American and Mediterranean species of the genera Populus and Platanus vis-á-vis the European poplars; and oriental planes, marigolds and gerbera vis-á-vis cineraria and chrysanthemums, etc. The examples in this connection are countless.

There are other cases of more indirect action: chilies partly displaced a series of condiments consisting of cultivated aromatic herbs (garden cress, rocket, horse-radish, rue, coriander and dill) and partly caused a reduction in the consumption of other imported species, such as clove and pepper.

Almost complete substitutions occurred in the agrosystem. This is the case with the dryland arboreal crops on the Mediterranean coast (almond, olive, carob, vine, fig and pistachio) replaced by the American subtropical crops under limited irrigation (avocado and cherimoya) or by cultivation of early crops under plastic with basically American species (tomato, pepper, gourd and bean) alternating with the sweet potato or early potato.

Another form of marginalization, or rather of even more indirect competition, was that caused by the intentional or spontaneous introduction, and subsequent transition to the wild state, of species such as the century plant or agave (Agave americana) or the prickly pear. Their use as quickset hedges displaced other local species of trees, bushes and border shrubs, some of which were used as aromatic plants, medicinal plants and as a source of raw material for craftsmanship. Competition even extended to spontaneous flora, endangering the survival of local endemic species (cf. Opuntia sp. on the Canary coast). Nicotiana glauca also had similar effects in some areas of the Mediterranean coast. We can see that, in other regions of the world, American flora has reached the point where it has almost completely replaced local flora, as in the case of Psidium cattleianum and Syzygium jambos on the Mascarene archipelago.

To complete this survey of the mechanisms of competition of American flora with Spanish crops, we cannot overlook the competition from herbs introduced into European agricultural systems. Many of these species arrived accidentally and early attempts were made to cultivate a few of them, but they subsequently reverted to the wild state. The most harmful species of American origin in Spanish agriculture are Amaranthus retroflexus, A. albus, A. blitoides, Conyza canadensis and C. bonariensis. Other locally important species may be Euphorbia nutans, Eclipta prostrata, Phytolacca americana, Xanthium spinosum Amaranthus cruentus, A. muricatus Oxalis latifolia and Paspalum paspaloides.


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