Grapes… yet another plant species that has largely co-evolved with human beings. Today grapes can be found, in some form or another, at all ends of the earth… They are thought to have originated somewhere in the vicinity of E. Europe, Middle East, N. Africa. Here’s an interesting recent article from Discovery News discussing the 8,000 year history of grape domestication and cultivation… you can harken back to the article the next time you have a glass of wine, or eat table grapes.
Wine Grapes Aged for Centuries
by Tim Wall
Vintners age the best wines, and it seems the grape vine itself took ages to domesticate.
Genetic analysis suggests grapes were probably first cultivated in southwest Asia during the Neolithic, approximately 8,000 years ago. However, archeological evidence suggests thousands of years passed during which many cultivated grape vines in Europe still produced smaller grapes and lower yields than the thoroughly domesticated grape subspecies, Vitis vinifera vinifera.
The remnants of grapes grown in southern France under the Roman Empire provide evidence that domestication of the plant proceeded slowly in the region between 50 BC and 500 AD. At 17 sites in two wine producing regions of ancient France, winery waste showed a mixture of wild-type and domesticated grapes. Over centuries, a greater proportion of the grape showed signs of being artificially selected for greater size and productivity. The study was published in PLOS ONE.
The archeologists used preserved grape seeds to determine the vines degree of domestication. Domesticated grapes tend to have more elongated seeds than their wild cousins, Vitis vinifera sylvestris, as well as other shape and flavor differences. Grape growers weren’t breeding their grapes for seed shape, though. The shape came as a result of selectively growing vines with larger, more oval fruits, which also had elongated seeds, according to the study. However, the authors noted other unknown pressures also may have driven changes in grapes as they were domesticated.
Greeks first planted grapes in southern France around their colony named Massalia (now Marseille) in approximately 600 BC. The Greeks made a fortune trading their wine with the Celts to the north. However grape cultivation changed dramatically after Romans overtook the region and started making wine from the conquered grapes.
From Science World Report:
China wasn’t known for its agriculture until domesticated rice was introduced. Yet now, archaeologists have made an intriguing find. They’ve discovered that people in subtropical China may have practiced agriculture 5,000 years ago–long before the arrival of rice in the region.
Rice cultivation in southern China began after domesticated strains arrived along the Lower Yangtze River. Until now, researchers believed that this event is what sparked the beginning of formal agriculture in the area. Yet poor organic preservation in the study region meant that traditional archaeobotany techniques weren’t possible, and left many questions about the history of these people.
In order to find out a little bit more about the region and the advent of agriculture, the researchers employed a new technique–ancient starch analysis. With this new method, they examined grinding stones from the era, pulling small quantities of sediment from the tiny pits and cracks that riddled the tools’ surfaces. They made some surprising finds that were overlooked before now.
“Our research shows that there was something much more interesting going on in the subtropical south of China 5,000 years ago than we had first thought,” said Huw Barton from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, in a news release. ”Starch was well-preserved and there was plenty of it. While some of the starch granules we found were species we might expect to find on grinding and pounding stones, ie. Some seeds and tuberous plants such as freshwater chestnuts, lotus root and the fern root, the addition of starch from palms was totally unexpected and very exciting.”
The findings show that these ancient people were actually using tropical palms as a food source. These palms can store prodigious quantities of starch which can be bashed and washed out of the trunk pith, dried as flour and then eaten. Although not particularly tasty, it is reliable and can be processed year round. In fact, many communities in the tropics still use these palms as a food source today.
The fact that two or three species of these palms were present in the ancient samples, though, seems to hint that the stationary groups of people may have planted the palms themselves. Most people that use palms are usually mobile, moving from one palm stand to another as they exhaust the clump. Since the people in this area were sedentary, though, it’s likely they were growing these palms.
The findings show that the onset of agriculture in this area was far earlier than anyone expected. In addition, the study reveals a little bit more about the ancient history of this region.
The study is published in the journal PLOS One.
“All Gray Fox Epistles are retellings of deep old myths and tales, the kinds that have been passed on through centuries, through many different wild landscapes. These retellings are re-rooted in the wilds that I know– redwood forest, tule marsh, northern coastal scrub. They are walks into the mythscapes & landscapes of the soul, and are also very tangibly and vividly rooted in the wild ecosystems that I am always learning here, on the edge of the central coast of California. In these stories, the landscape is itself a character and never just a backdrop, and the principles of deep ecology are honored and brought to narrative life.”
The plant photographed below grows in parts of Tilden park, Berkeley California. The flower photo was taken about 7 weeks ago and the fruit photo just a few days ago, note yet ripe.
I initially assumed it was Ribes uva-crispa, gooseberry, however now I am wondering if it could be the Ribes divaricatum, the American Worchesterberry which, as the name partially suggests, is native to N. America. Readers, please let me know if you know.
R. uva crispa is a long-lived deciduous shrub with spiny branches. Ribes uva-crispa produces a shiny semi-translucent berry, born singly or in pairs, green or often yellow, red or purple (depending on the cultivar). The Gooseberry is closely related to the aforementioned American Worcesterberry (R divaricatum) and the current gooseberry (R. hirtellum).
The gooseberry is a widely distributed throughout Europe and Asia. Cultivation of the fruit was already underway in the fifteenth century, apparently becoming quite popular during the eighteenth century when a wide range of cultivars were developed. Today commercial production is centered in western central and eastern Europe, Germany being the largest producer.
The fruit are a fairly good source of vitamin C (15-35mg per 100g) and can be eaten fresh or processed into a variety of jams, juices, preserves, etc.
The plant and its close relatives are readily propagated from cuttings. Plants require a temperate climate and cold winters.
Click photos to enlarge.
This is another article reference recent research at the University of W. Australia in plant communication. For a related article I posted a few days ago on the same subject, see this link: Plants talk via non-chemical vibrations…
If you don’t want to read the article below, here are the essential concluding remarks… “”Plants are more complex organisms than we’ve given them credit for”… An apt summary.
Plants “Listen” to the Good Vibes of Other Plants
When basil “speaks,” chilies “listen.”
Plants might be able to eavesdrop on their neighbors and use the sounds they “hear” to guide their own growth, according to a new study that suggests plants use acoustic signaling to communicate with one another.
“We have shown that plants can recognize when a good neighbor is growing next to them,” said study co-author Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Western Australia.
“We are proposing that this communication may be based upon an acoustic exchange.”
The findings, published this week in the journal BMC Ecology, suggest that plants can not only “smell” the chemicals and “see” the reflected light of their neighbors, they may also “listen” to the plants around them.
Below is a snippet and link to full article from the BBC concerning an initiative underway in the UK to establish a tree seed bank, coordinated by KEW’s Millennium Seed Bank and funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery…
From the BBC:
“The UK’s first national collection of tree seeds has been established, which scientists say is crucial as a growing array of pests threaten native species.
Co-ordinated by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, it aims to safeguard the genetic diversity of the UK’s tree flora.
The scheme will initially target 50 native species, including the common ash, which is under treat across Europe from ash dieback.
The project’s funding has been provided by the People’s Postcode Lottery.
In the last 10 years, we have seen an increasing threat to our trees from many newly arrived, often very aggressive, pests and diseases,” explained Paul Smith, head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank.
“In 2013, almost all of our favourite tree species – from oak to beech and ash – are affected.”
Read full article Establishing UK tree seed bank crucial