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THE ORIGIN OF GARDEN PLANTS AND THE FSU CONTRIBUTION

The Mediterranean Center


The Mediterranean is perhaps, the most important of all the centers because it is linked to the civilizations of antiquity. This territory involves Vavilov's Mediterranean center for economic plants and includes Mediterranean Floristic Region, adjacent parts of the Irano-Turanien and the Circumboreal Floristic Regions. The Mediterranean range has given rise to more than 1,000 ornamental species, which is about 20% of the total of common garden plants in cultivation. In fact, the Mediterranean Center has produced more commercial plant species (for temperate zones) than any other region. These plants have been subjected to prolonged selection and nurtured by many factors, including favourable climatic conditions and human influences. The Mediterranean plants alone have developed an enormous diversity of cultivars whose ancestral forms are now very difficult to trace. Long before the Christian era, many gardens of the Mediterranean were already famous for their exotic and local plants.

The most popular commercial plants native to the Mediterranean Center include the following: daffodil (Narcissus hybida hort.), hyacinth (Hyacinths hybrida hort.), sowbread (Cyclamen), stock (Matthiola incana), mignonette (Reseda odorata), iris (Iris hybrida hort.), some carnations (Dianthus), garden pansy (Viola x wittrockiana). Many woody species, widely used in landscaping came from the Mediterranean Center. The common horse chestnut (Aesculus hyppocastanum) is a native of the Balkan Peninsula, laurel (Laurus nobilis) grows wild in many Mediterranean areas, and oleander (Nerium oleander) is native to the Mediterranean coast. Although it is difficult to determine which plants were pioneers in cultivation, some information is available. For example, it is known that Lilium candidum has been cultivated from very early times because its depiction can still be seen among the ruins in ancient Egyptian architecture of the 21st century B.C. Later on, artists used the Lily to represent the Annunciation, and with its white petals symbolizing the purity of the Virgin Mary, it soon came to be known as the "Madonna Lily". The Gardens of Thuthmos III at Karnak in Upper Egypt were known in the 15th century B.C. In the earliest historical times, there were luxuriant gardens, with alleys of palm and fig (Ficus carica), vineyards, and flower beds with cornflowers (Centaurea) and poppies (Papaver). The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), great double windflower (Anemone coronaria), cupid's dart (Catananche caerulea) and peony (Paeonia officinalis) have also been cultivated in the Mediterranean. Leaves of acanthus (Acanthus spinosissimus) are known to have provided inspiration the Greek sculptor, Callimachus, who incorporated them into his design for the tops of the Corinthian columns in the 5th century B.C. Many ornamental plants are beautifully represented in Pompeian frescoes. There, in delicate details, the visitor can still see daffodils, iris, myrtle, oleander and poppies, providing visible evidence that these ornamentals were in cultivation before 59 A.D.

THE ORIGIN OF GARDEN PLANTS
 
 
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