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Yam plant growing wild

Pick of the Past:

“Plants that changed the world”


a talk by Colin Jones, 22nd November 2017

Replacing the booked speaker at short notice, Colin gave us, in a new talk, a whistle-stop tour of plants which have been and are essential for our lives, whether by producing oxygen, as food for us or animals, etc.

The 20 plants are: yams, rice, wheat, maize, pomegranate, cotton, grapes, hops, sugar cane, tea, opium, coffee, potato, bamboo, nutmeg, English oak, cinchona, oranges, coconut and rubber.

The reasons for including many of these are self-evident, but Colin revealed many snippets of information which were a surprise!

Yams (pictured growing wide above) are now a staple food for 100M people, and were grown when hunter-gatherers became farmers. The contraceptive pill is made from chemicals produced by the yam.

The pomegranate, grown by the ancient Egyptians, is a treatment for tapeworms.

Cotton was behind the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the Civil War in America.

Opium cannot be synthesised. This source of morphine and heroin has to come from a poppy. One quarter of the Chinese population became addicted to heroin when the East India Company traded it for

Tea …..which arrived in Britain in 1657, and became more popular than beer. Britain lost America because of the tax on tea and the Boston Tea Party!

Cinchona is the source of quinine, which treats malaria. Malaria has killed more people than all the wars and plagues combined.

Colin is truly a walking encyclopaedia!