Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday Spotting - Plants and History

Published 1903 in the month of January in the Montgomery Advisor out of Montgomery, AL
PLANTS THAT MADE HISTORY
Sugar, Tobacco and Cotton Have all Influenced History
     Rather more than sixty years ago, says Stray Stories, a tiny fungus – itself a plant – appeared in Ireland and fastened itself on the potato. Fostered by a cheerless summer, the fungus spread until the whole potato crop, the mainstay of the Irish, was ruined and the resulting famine of 1845 stands out in history as a time of overwhelming trouble.
     Its relief occupied the whole attention of the British ministry and when the famine was over a quarter of the whole population lay slain by the fungus.
     And the potato disease acted in two distinct ways on history. It had an immediate effect in helping the repeal of the corn laws and throwing the country open to free trade.
     In the second place, it had a great and unforeseen effect on another continent, for there then started a stream of emigrants across the Atlantic which has steadily continued.
   At the beginning of the seventeenth century the English and Dutch were rivals for the possession of a certain little island, Amboyna, in the East Indies, because of the cloves that grew upon it. At this date the production of cloves was extremely limited and finally the Dutch massacred a small English colony established there. This aroused the bitter feeling in England against the Dutch and, as a great historian tells us, furnished a popular way for two years.
     A sudden passion for tulips turned the heads of the usually placid Dutchmen in the seventeenth century, and the tulipomania is a well recognized event in Dutch domestic history.
     It is a time when the desire to possess an uncommon tulip was sufficient to drive men to meet extreme lengths of speculation, to cause the ruin of noble houses and to carry whole families to misery. In fact, so acute did the rage become that the Dutch Government was obliged to step in with a heavy hand and by stringent measures allay this fever of the tulip.
     The tea plant was the “last straw” which brought about the independence of the United States, as we all know.
     The poppy involved England in the opium war with China at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria. Though the war was an unjust one, yet it did ultimate good in opening up China to foreign influence and trade.
     Sugar, cotton and tobacco have all influenced history, for these three plants were particularly responsible for the slave trade of modern times.