The plants involved in the Columbian Exchange changed both the economy and the culture of the New and Old Worlds.  There was an abundance of new plants discovered in the Americas (including beans, squash, chili peppers, sunflowers, chenopods, peanuts, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, manioc, avocado, pineapple, and cacao), but the two most important were the potato and maize.  In addition to discovering New World plants, many plants were brought from the Old World to become hugely successful in the Americas.  Among these plant, the most prevalent was sugarcane.


Sugarcane is an essential form of sucrose and is used in the diet of almost every culture.  It is also a very significant crop historically.  the domestication of sugarcane dates back to 10,000 years ago when it originated in New Guinea.  By A.D. 100, almost all of Europe had been introduced to it but it was difficult to cultivate in European climates and was therefore very rare.  Columbus introduced sugarcane in his second voyage to the Americas.  The production flourished in the New World under the plantation system.  Early on, plantations developed in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.  Eventually, the southeastern colonies of North America began planting sugarcane as well.  Produced at a large scale, sugar became one of the many vices developed from New World plants.  Used in coffee, tea, chocolate, and rum, people became addicted to sugar, making it one of the largest cash crops in history.




Maize (American Corn) is possibly the most important of all the New World crops involved in the Columbian Exchange.  It was always important to the Amerindian diet because it could be stored (dried) almost indefinitely.  Maize originated in America, but because of it's adaptable nature, it was able to be transported to Europe and successfully cultivated in various regions.  It offered an alternative to wheat, because maize grows quickly and in places wheat can't.  Africa, Asia, and Europe all still use maize in combination with various other crops to supplement their diet's.  Maize's flexibility has led it to influence the world economy in a way many other crops can't.  The combination of maize with native crops supported economies and sustained great population growth.  It made the New World into a land where people were allowed access to nourishment for themselves and their families, as well as a means of trading.



The potato is an amazing example of a New World crop which became essential to European diet. Potatoes came from the Andes of South America and were important because they could resist cold and grow in thin soil.  Used as cheap food for sailors, once the potato reached Europe, it's value became obvious.  the weak European soil was perfect for a potato crop and potatoes became food for the lower class.  All over Europe, potatoes were a dietary staple.  So much so that by the nineteenth century, Ireland was so dependent on the potato as a source of food, crop failure forced thousands of people to migrate as their only choice to avoid starvation.



        Technology        Disease        Animals       

 Home    Bibliography        About the Authors