The Chronology of Old World plants is retold in works by John Parkinson and John Gerard.   John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum is the most lengthy treatise on herbal medicines for the late sixteenth-early seventeenth century.  His Paradisi del Sol (Paradise Under the Sun), or Garden of Pleasant Flowers (1629) preceded his Theatrum Botanicum (1640) and has limited information, being written more for the use of gardeners.  Gerard’s 1597 Herbal complements Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum

The chronologies given by these two writers indicate show how much the Asian remedies were already well known by the beginning of exploration of the New World.   Therefore, these Eurasian products became imports for the New World, and by the late sixteenth century in New Spain and the western coast of South America many had become naturalized in the New World.  The best known examples of these imports include Dandelion and Digitalis.  

New Britain began receiving obtained Old World and Southern Hemisphere imports about 1620-1630.  The earliest parts of the Northern Coast to receive imports were in New France.  In the Mid-Atlantic coast the Jamestown area began receiving its products quite soon into the 1600s.  Parts of the Georgia coastline had early imports of foods and drug-bearing plants received as well from the Caribbean.   By 1620, the New France influences near Quebec began extending inland into what later became the Louisiana Purchase.  They headed as far south as Louisiana. 

In what later became Massachusetts, New England was established by 1620, and its first large provincial gardens established by 1630. The imports into this region were for the most part dominated by British rule.  The spices came from the British Spice Islands in West India and the products of this region were shipped back to Great Britain for use in factories and mills.   

In contrast, the New Netherlands (later New York) by 1640 had been under the influence of French, Dutch, English and German imports.  Beginning as early as 1620, the establishment of settlements in and about the Fort Albany and New Amsterdam areas along the Hudson River led to a blending of different living traditions along the Hudson Valley.  Just west of the Hudson River was New Rhinelands, a place where Germans made their stay.  On the east shore were lands ruled by the Dutch, and to some were treated as though they were part of Connecticut.   Just south of this region, and closer to New Jersey, were settlements known as New Sweden, New Belgium, and New Guernsey.  By 1635, New Sweden and New Rhinelands were settled and original deeds and papers inscribed.  But in due time printed these two regions went through several legal and economic-based changes, which led them to become part of either New Britain or New Netherlands.    

A timeline based on European entries into the New World can be drawn extending from the earliest points of entry in Central America and Newfoundland-New Brunswick, with subsequent entries into Jamestown.  From the north and south entries each approached the mid-Atlantic region as new emigrants arrived.  Similarly, the introduction of Old World produce onto this continent matches this map of the discovery of New World foods and medicines.  Both New France and New Spain chronologies follow the coast and from there head inward.  As New Spain headed north toward Jamestown along the Atlantic coast and into Louisiana along the Gulf Coast, the mainland routes travelled headed westward from Mexico and along the southern Mississippi RIver region into land that is now Texas, Arkansas, and westward to the Baja region of California.  The second route of travel during these early years begins in Newfoundland-New Brunswick, and heads inland along the St. Lawrence and its tributaries, southward into New York/New Netherlands by way of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain, and from there some travellers headed westward into the Great Lakes. 

As the migration of people and ideas travelled these same routes, areas where clashes would occur formed at times.  One of these regions was along the New Amsterdam-New England border.  As two European cultures clashed in the Hudson Valley-Connecticut area, the same sort of division was formed between the different doctors forming each of the countries’ healing faiths, thus leading to the introduction of native herbs to European culture, and the diminishment of the reliance many had on traditional European medicine.  The Hudson Valley was the site of major crossings for greatly differing healing faiths.  Medicine as it was practiced by Jewish, Dutch, French and German doctors had already come to grips with the needs of the people, the pressures of the local economy, and the ever present influence of Native Ameriacn healing traditions.  These early colonial and culturally-defined healing sects had only English physicians to contend with in the New Netherlands.  Once this region was signed over to the British and thus became New York in the very late 1600s, the kinds of healing which took place in the New World were the first and most unique alternative healing faiths in modern day thinking to undergo intense scrutiny in the New World by the regular physician.

The following notes are designed to produce an order to the chronology of New World plant discoveries.  The acceptance of these plants as decoratives by other parts of the World, and the introduction of their uses as medicines, came as early as a few years following their discoveries.  Usually, their acceptance by the general public for use as medicines took much longer in the Old World than in the colonies.   The earliest plants to be accepted were the miracle cures, such as Cinchona, Contrayerva, and the substitutes for Ginseng and Valerian.  Those which they claimed could treat such ailments as the Plague, venereal disease, and the host of new diseases brought across the oceans and then back to Europe by travellers also became quite popular in European history.

The following Native, Middle and South American plants have years that can be attached to their discoveries, their introduction to the Colonists, and their support as garden plants or medicines by the Old World.

PART I: Pre-1600

MEXICO [New Spain; Toltec-Aztec-Mayan]

Marygold (Tagetes patula L.)

1535, 1542.  Perhaps discovered due to the expedition against Tunis by Emporer Charles V.; found in the work of Dodoens, 1535, and Fuchsius, 1542, in which it was noted as Tagetes indica

1597.  Noted in Hernandez History of Mexico.  In his 1597 book, Gerard noted his to be produced with “Mexican seeds.”

1727.  Planted in the garden at Eltham. 


1562.  Referred to as Indian or Turkie Corne, Maize.  Cultivated in England as early as 1562.  In Italy, Germany and North America, it was considered “the food of the poor inhabitants.” Miller. (Favretti & DeWolf, p. 90)

Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.)

1565. 1584. 1597.  The Solanum was introduced to Ireland about 1565 by Hawkins or 1584 by Sir Walter Raleigh; both ended up in Gerard’s Herbal as part of his garden by 1597.  The New England Colony of Potatoes came in by way of Presbyterian Irish groups seyttling in Londonberry, New Hampshire, about 1719.   The cultivation of this Solanum crop in the Colonies wasn’t widely accepted for several more decades.  The Yam, of Southern and Middle American history, pretty much remained a neotropical and sub-tropical product. 

Aztec/Africa Marygold  (Tagetes erecta L.)

1596.  Gerarde’s Herbal, with note on Parkinson.

Yucca (Yucca gloriosa L.)

1596, 1629.  Native to Florida up the coast to North Carolina, therefore discovered as part of New Spain’s history.  Seen in John Gerarde’s Herball (1596) and Parkinson’s Paradisi.. in 1629.


TROPICAL AMERICA [Peru-Ecuador influence]

Marvel of Peru. (Marabilis jalapa L.)

1597.  Gerard’s Herbal.


PART II. 1600s

Potato (Ipomoea batatas L.)

1609Ipomoea batatas and Solanum tuberosum L. are often confused in interpretations of past writings.  Favreti and DeWolf note both to be cultivated in Virginia in 1609. 

Egyptian Acacia  (Acacia farnesiana (L.) Willd.

1611. Suspected to be native to Mexico, or the West Indies.  (Favretti and DeWolf, 1972)  First cultivated at Farnese Palace in the garden, by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1611. 

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis L.)

1619. 1629.  First cultivated in Padua, 1619, and in England, 1629.

White Oak (Quercus alba L.)

1620.  In 1620, the Pilgrims noted the storage of parched acorns hidden by local Natives.  Not cultivated until 1724 according to Fevretti and DeWolf.

Yucca (Yucca gloriosa L.)

1596, 1629.  Native to Florida up the coast to North Carolina, therefore discovered as part of New Spain’s history.  Seen in John Gerarde’s Herball (1596) and Parkinson’s Paradisi.. in 1629.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.)

1629.  Native to No. Amer.; seen in Parkinson’s Paradisi.., 1629.  He writes, “Sometimes the heads of the Sun-flower are dressed, and eaten as Hartichokes are, and are accounted of some to be good meat, but they are too strong for my taste.”

Tomato  (Lycopersicon esculentum Miller)

1629.  Peru and Ecuador–no date.  Appeared in Miller’s writings, and in Parkinson’s Paradisi…

Lobelia/Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis L.)

1629.  Grown as early as 1629 by Parkinson.  Inhabits the sides of streams and ditches in North America.

Periploca/Virginia Silk/Wisanck Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.)

1629.  Parkinson wrote of the following medicinal use in his Paradisi:  “Captain John Smith in his book of the discovery and description of Virginia, siath, that the Virginians use the roots hereof…being bruised and applyed to cur their hurts and diseases.” 

Rubus and Sambucus

1629.  Only two Native American fruit-bearers are mentioned: Raspberry (Rubus idaeus L.) and Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis L.).  This Raspberry is described in Parkinson’s Paradisi (1629).  The Elderberry has no dated entry given.

Locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia L.)

ca. 1630.  In the earliest settlements in Boston, the houses were constructed from this tree. (Favretti and DeWolf, 1972)

Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica L.)

1638 and 1639.  Sir John Danvers Garden, Chelsey, May 1638 and 1639.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis L.)

1640 or earlier.  From Newfoundland to Wisconsin.  Prior to 1640, it was cultivated in England by John Tradescant.

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis L.)

Other names: Buttonwood and Water Beech.  Considered a pleasant shade tree. 

1640.  Cultivated in 1640 by John Tradescant. (Miller, 1759, 1799)

Carolina Jasmine (Gelseminum sempervirens L.)

1640.  An Early Jamestown plant.  Noted by Parkinson in his Theatrum Botanicum (1640) as growing in Virginia by Master Tradescant.

Maiden Hair Fern (Adiantum pedatum L.)

1640 or earlier.  From Quebec and Minnesota, south to Georgia.  Prior to 1640, it was cultivated in England by John Tradescant.

Rose Mallow  (Hibiscus moscheutos L.)

1644.  Introduced to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.  Native to Maryland, west to Indiana, south to Florida and Alabama.

Aster tradescantii L.

1656.  Cultivated by Tradescant.  Other Asters noted in Gerard’s Herbal.

Blue Monarda (Monarda fistulosa L.)

1656.  Native of Quebec and Ontario, with distribution extending south into Florida and over to Texas, Miller notes that John Tradescant was cultivating it in England in 1656.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum L.)

1656.  Cultivated in 1656 by John Tradescant. (Miller, 1759, 1799)

Lupine (L. perennis L.; Also L. hirsutis L. and L. albus L. of Europe.)

1658.  According to Miller, Lupinus perennis L. was grown as early as 1658 in the gardens at Oxford.  The European Lupinus hirsutis L. was cultivated by Parkinson in 1629.

Sweet Gum (Liquidambur styraciflua L.)

1688.  Cultivated in 1688 by Bishop Compton.  A medicinal effect was noted along with its ethnobotany:

“From between the wood and the bark issues a fragrant gum, which trickles from the wounded trees, and by the heat of the sun congeals into transparent drops, which the Indians chew as a preservation to their teeth…The bark is also of singular use to the Indians for covering their huts.” (Quoted from Miller, by Favretti and DeWolf, 1972, p. 105.)

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera L.)

1688.  Cultivated in 1688 by Bishop Compton.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin Blume)

1688.  Sent by Banister to Compton Bishop of London and then cultivated in 1688 at a garden in Fulham.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica (L.) Pers.)

1699.  Cultivated in England.  New York to Minn., so. to So. Carol. and Ark.