Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 41

May/June 2014
39
is credited with bringing the lemon and the peach to Europe
as a result of his Persian campaigns in the fourth century
BCE
.
Other citrus fruits were known around the Mediterranean,
especially the citron and almost certainly the bitter—or “Se-
ville”—orange. Agriculture declined after the fall of the Ro-
man Empire in the fifth century
CE
, and many plants, including
citrus, were introduced or reintroduced in the wake of the
Muslim entry into Europe in the eighth century.
Another wave came during the Crusades. Once again, practi-
cal considerations seem to have been paramount. The English
geographer Richard Hakluyt, writing in the 1580’s on the value
of plant introductions, relates how a pilgrim “purposing to do
good to his country” risked his life by smuggling saffron crocus
bulbs back to England in his staff—an echo of the tale of the
monks who allegedly smuggled silkworm cocoons from China
to Byzantium in the sixth century
CE
.
The crocus, which now carpets north-
ern European gardens in spring, appears
to have arrived in England in the mid-13th
century. Its name comes from the Aramaic
kurkama
, and it is native to the Mediter-
ranean and Eurasia.
The
Crocus sativus
was almost certainly
domesticated in Crete, where it has been
cultivated for saffron for at least 3000
years. Saffron was so valuable as a spice,
medicine and dye that rules against adul-
teration appear in nearly every code deal-
ing with quality control. The significance
of the crocus lay not in its beauty, but in its
value as a cash crop.
Another plant that seems to have
reached England in the mid-13th century
is the hollyhock. Long synonymous with
traditional cottage gardens, it is native to
Eurasia. A number of species come from
Central Asia, and they appear in the back-
ground of many miniature paintings, par-
ticularly those of the Herat school of the
mid-15th century. (See illustration,
left
.)
The name is thought to derive from “Holy
Hoc,” or “holy mallow,” because it came
from Palestine. Like many of the family,
including marsh mallow and the popular
Egyptian and Tunisian vegetable
mulukhi-
yya
, the hollyhock was held to have me-
THE LAST ICE AGE GREATLY
REDUCED THE FLORA
OF MUCH OF NORTHERN
EUROPE, AND TRAVELERS
FROM THOSE LANDS WHO
CAME INTO CONTACT WITH
THE INFINITELY RICHER
FLORA OF EURASIA WERE
AMAZED AND IMPRESSED.
This miniature, dated to around 1430, by a
painter of the Herat school, illustrates a
royal garden abundant in hollyhocks, which
were particularly common in Central Asia
and reached northern Europe about the
13th century.
Opposite:
Narcissi adorn this detail of a box from Kashmir painted
in Mughal style.
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