PLANTS AND PEOPLE
Hugh D. Wilson 

Vegetative Food II
(stem, leaves, and roots)

Asteraceae continued:  Both Lactuca and Cichorium produce the ligulate type of inflorescence. The sunflower (Helianthus) produces the radiate inflorescence type, and Cynara produces the discoid type:

Globe Artichokes - Cynara scolymus (current accepted name = :  Cynara cardunculus) - edible phyllaries and receptacle - hairy 'chaff' on the receptacle ('choke') is often found in other 'thistles' of the group (tribe) that also features the discoid inflorescence. Origin is obscure but probably initially domesticated in the Mediterranean region - a polypoid (2n=34) perennial that is typically propagated vegetatively (suckers) in that seed progeny are quite variable (more info).

Apiaceae - Celery - Apium graveolens - petioles - also Celeriac - kind of a kohlrabi of celery - occurs wild in wet places of temperate Eurasia, possibly 1st used by the Greeks as a medicinal prior to domestication as leaf, petiole, and stem crop. Also root crops from the family - Daucus carota (carrot) (is it true that they are good for your sight - check text) - the modern, orange, 'carotene' (orange) carrot cultivars have been derived from selection that started in the 1600s (Netherlands) from the eastern anthocyanin cultivars (purple to black) that were probably developed from wild types still found in Afghanistan and this is probably the area of origin. Also, Pastinaca sativa - parsnips - similar to carrots but, like cabbage, initially important in that the root will over-winter, a benefit that is no longer important - both carrot and parship are fundamental european crops that link to the eastern Mediterranean. This large family is more important, from an economic perspective, as a contributor of spices (essential oils).

Asparagus officinalis - Liliaceae (monocot) - native to Eurasia - periodic burning - rhizome with shoots at the nodes - eat shoots - also other species 'asparagus ferns' used as ornamentals. Like Quercus suber, this species is adapted to Chappral habitat of southern Europe and we 'harvest' from this adaptive tactic.

Also Liliaceae:

Allium and relatives (ca. 1, 200 species of the genus, north temperate - elements selected throughout Eurasia) - Onion (Allium cepa), garlic (A. sativum), leek (A. ampeloprasum) - bulbs, or clusters of bulbs (garlic) or leaves (chives - A. schoenoprasum ). Distinctive feature of all is rich association with European lore (Troll rejection, medicinal applications) and release of distinctive volatile compounds (sulfides) from crushed cells that are water soluable (dissolve in the eye to produce sulfuric acid).

Also monocots: - 'true' Yams (Dioscorea - Dioscoreaceae - 2nd only to Solanum tuberosum as a cultivated tuber and Taro (Colocasia esculenta and Xanthosoma sagittifolium) of the Araceae. - Plants produce CORMS (vertical rhizomes) filled with starch - major resource of the tropics - especially south pacific - poi = fermented taro starch.

Finally roots: Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas - Convolvulaceae) - also known as 'yams' because Columbus, the 1st European to encounter sweet potatoes, familiar with Dioscorea from West Africa, called them 'yams'. Ipomoea is a genus of ca. 400 species, worldwide distribution, I. Purpurea is the common garden morning glory, the seeds of several species are used in folk medicine and as a narcotic (LSD-like compounds). The species appears to be native to the western hemisphere in that is was a major component of Arawak (extirpated natives of the Greater Antilles) and aboriginal agriculture throughout the low-mid elevation tropics of the New World, dried material from Andean archaeological sites dates to 8-10k BP - BUT also very much a part of aboriginal agricultural systems and ritual culture in Polynesia - its presence there suggests the possibility of pre-Columbian trans-pacific contact (Thor Heyerdal - Kon Tiki), although other explanations (natural dispersal, very early introduction (Spanish) and incorporation ('Irish' potato).

Beet (Beta vulgaris - Chenopodiaceae) - four distinct cultigens, Swiss Chard (leaf), fodder beet (mangel-wurzels), red 'vegetable' beet, and sugar beet. The non-leaf types show a transition of stem (hypocotyl) vs. root tissue (vegetable-fodder-sugar). Sugar beet provides a 'northern' (temperate as opposed to tropical grass - Saccharum officinarum) source of sugar - eaten as a root crop for centuries - neareast - sugar con. 2% in in the 18th century to 20% today. One of the few examples of modern (historic) selection (mostly by the French - Napoleon) producing something new and useful.

Cassava (Manihot esculenta - Euphorbiaceae); known as yuca, yucca, or manioc).  A woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) native to South America that is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions of the world for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. The flour made of the roots is called tapioca.  Cassava roots and leaves cannot be consumed raw because they contain cyanogenic glucosides - processing required.  Also, Texas flora - Walker's Manioc.


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