THE ORIGIN OF GARDEN PLANTS AND THE FSU CONTRIBUTION
The South American Center
The South American Center, encompassing the tropics of the
Amazonian, Brazilian, and Guayna Highlands Regions, is the area next
richest in ornamental species. They account for about 600, or 12% of
the world's ornamental flora. According to Vavilov the South American
Center of economic plants is situated in the west mountainous regions
of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and west Brazil, Paraguay and Chiloe Island.
Vavilov stresses that the bulk of the economically useful species are
obtained from mountainous and sometimes dryer regions, but rarely from
areas with a humid, tropical climate. At the same time, a large number
of cultivated ornamentals occur in nature only in tropical rain forests.
In the Temperate zone, most are grown only under glass and indoors.
The South American plants that are usually raised in greenhouses, winter
gardens and indoors are Anthurium, Caladium, Diffenbachia,
Philodendron and other members of the Araceae family. Many species
of Fuchsia, also the well-known gloxinia (Sinningia) are
also of this origin. There are some plants that, in spite of their
tropical origin, can survive in the Temperate zone (hardy in zone 6 or
even 5). Among them are the rainbow plant (Caladium hybridum hort.)
does well in regions belonging to zone 5 and Gunnera, a perennial
with huge umbrella-like leaves, cultivated in many European countries.
G. manicata, from South Brazil, is well-known and widely available
in Great Britain, Germany and other European countries. South America has
given horticulture wonderful well-known annuals: sage (Salvia
splendens), heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), Verbena
hybrida hort. (mainly Verbena peruviana) and morning glory
(Ipomoea alba, I. purpurea, I. tricolor), which are also native to
Most of the ornamental species of prime importance in gardening were
introduced to Europe in the 18th century. The story of their
cultivation, in South America, began many years ago and with the help of
carbon dating, archaeologists are able to determine the age of some plant
remains. In particular, they have found that Canna had been
cultivated in the Cosma Valley in Peru in 2250 B. C.