National Geographic : 1947 Jul
The Mediterranean Region Has Many "Bulbs" FROM the abundant evidences of ancient man found there, it would seem that what now is mostly an arid wasteland across much of North Africa was once a well-watered region supporting a large population. Also, geologists tell us that about the same time what is now the basin of the Mediterranean Sea was a broad valley formed by a slow down buckling of the earth's crust. Long before the dawn of written history-not less than 10,000 years ago, but probably not more than 25,000 years ago-the Atlantic Ocean spilled over into this natural basin and filled it. Thus did the Mediterranean Sea in its present form come into being. What manner of people inhabited this valley prior to the Great Flood we may never know, but those who lived on the higher ground around its rim left enough clues in the form of rubbish heaps and cast-off oddments of everyday existence that we can get some in sight into their lives. These early peoples of the Mediterranean basin had domesticated some of the animals they formerly had hunted. Probably the first was the dog, once a hunting companion but later an assistant in herding. Goats and sheep they had as well as cows. They were also tillers of the soil, for they were well acquainted with such things as wheat, barley, millet, and peas. Flax was grown for fiber. Of their leafy vegetables we know little except by inference. However, one of these, a member of the Mustard Family, has been in cultivation so long that it has given rise to such different-looking things as Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli, and Kohlrabi, all of which are no more than garden varieties of a single species, Brassica oleracea. This species is still wild in its primitive form on the cliffs along the northern rim of this old valley. Following the advent of vegetable growing came the cultivation of flowers. When we first pick up the thread of one of the great civiliza tions which later sprang up around the Medi terranean, that of Egypt, these people already had a highly developed sense of gardening. Funeral wreaths found in the Egyptian tombs indicate that they were growing such flowers as the Lily, Cornflower, Mignonette, and Nar cissus, and their carvings and paintings show many more. Other centers of culture arose. There were gardens at Cnossus in Crete and at Tyre, the Greeks and early Carthaginians grew flowers, and the Romans finally took up ornamental gardening. These civilizations have long since perished and their architectural marvels mostly turned to rubble; yet the flowers selected and carefully nurtured by those ancient floricul turists lived on, eventually to find their way into our gardens. The modern forms are very different from the early types. Like all regions which have considerable seasonal fluctuation in available moisture, the Mediterranean and contiguous areas are unu sually rich in bulbous plants. Bulbous forms are most common in the Lily and Amaryllis Families. Members of the Amaryllis Family native around the Mediterranean which also might have been included in this series are the Jonquil and Poets Narcissus. The plants on the opposite page belong to the Lily Family. GRAPE-HYACINTH (Muscari, various spe cies): The 40 or more wild species of Grape Hyacinth are most abundant in the Mediter ranean region, ranging eastward into Asia Minor and slightly beyond. One of these, Muscari botryoides, a native of the European segment of the Mediterranean basin, has made itself at home in our gardens and frequently escapes into lawns and waste places. The species differ considerably in flower size and density of cluster, and to some extent in color. STAR-OF-BETHLEHEM (Ornithogalum, va rious species): The Ornithogalums first came into cultivation by way of the vegetable gar den, the fleshy bulbs being the part used. It is a large genus, with about 100 species in various parts of the Old World. The true Star of-Bethlehem, 0. umbellatum, native around the Mediterranean, is now widespread and often escapes, sometimes becoming a pestif erous weed. COMMON HYACINTH (Hyacinthus orien talis): The 30 or more species of Hyacinth are scattered mainly from the Mediterranean region into tropical and South Africa. It is not clear, when Linnaeus christened our spe cies, whether he thought it was from eastern Asia or from Asia Minor, in those days some times called the "Orient." Actually, it seems to be native from Greece eastward along the Mediterranean into Asia. Probably originally purplish, the Common Hyacinth now comes in many colors. The rather sparse-flowered white form also shown is the Roman Hyacinth, botanically known as Hyacinthus orientalis variety albulus, which also may be light blue. This Roman Hyacinth with its striking blooms is especially popular for winter forcing. It is said to be native along the Mediterranean, westward of the basic species, from Italy into southern France.