National Geographic : 1947 Jul
Other Mediterranean Species BY THE time of the Emperor Trajan (A. D. 98-117) the Roman Empire had expanded so that it reached from Britain into Africa and eastward to Egypt, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea. Its commerce went still farther. Tin came from the Cornish mines and other metals from Spain. Asia was tapped by camel caravan through the Persian gateway. And each year fleets set sail from an Egyptian port on the Red Sea for India and Ceylon. They would return about six months later laden with the wonders of the Orient. Carried overland by camel train to the Nile, thence downriver to Alexandria, those precious cargoes were then transshipped and sent on to Rome. Before the stirring days of Julius Caesar the Romans had gardens of sorts, but they were as nothing compared with those which developed later. After the Roman legionaries had seen the cultivation of strange plants in Egypt, as well as the marvelous floral displays in Asia Minor, their leaders coveted such gar dens. But even as late as the time of Pliny the Younger (A. D. c. 62-113), who left us ex cellent accounts of his several gardens, the strictly ornamental plants were few and almost limited to those which were native in adjacent regions. With the accumulation of wealth, the ac quisition of great estates, and the building of public parks, and because of the rapidly ex panding commerce of the time, living plants and seed from the faraway places of the world began to flow to Rome. In turn, Roman offi cials ordered to the distant parts of the Em pire took garden materials along with them. In this manner many exotics got to western Europe for the first time. For three centuries after the time of Pliny horticulture developed and Rome became a city of magnificent gardens; also, as the city became congested, many summer vacation villas were built outside the town or near the sea, where one could sit on the terraces and look out over the blue waters of the Mediter ranean. Such seaside villas soon became fashionable throughout the Empire. However, at the same time, because of faulty understanding of government, the Romans were sowing the seeds of their own destruction. The peoples to the north were becoming unu sually restless and, in the year 410, Alaric the Goth marched through Italy and captured Rome. Later the Vandals left Spain, took Carthage, and from that base, in A. D. 455, sacked Rome. With that the Dark Ages set tled over Europe. Being abandoned, the great gardens and villas fell into disrepair, and without the neces sary care the great majority of the exotic plants perished. Nor was there any real at tempt to reintroduce them for almost another thousand years. Except for a few pockets of culture (the Arabs were developing their own style of gardening which they later introduced into Spain), ornamental gardening around the European edge of the Mediterranean during the Dark Ages was curtailed and almost limited to species, such as the following, which were native there. OLEANDER (Nerium Oleander): This shrub is often grown indoors in the North to be set out in the summer; in the South it is quite hardy. The botanical name combines two very old ones. Nerium is the Greek name for the plant; Oleander is a Roman folk-name and refers to the resemblance of the leaves of this plant to those of the Olive Tree or Olea, its name in classical Latin. Our word "oil" stems from the same root-word. SNAPDRAGON (Antirrhinum majus): When the sides of one of these flowers is pressed, the two lips snap open; hence the English common name. The name Antirrhinum is de rived from the Greek and means "shaped like a nose." CANDYTUFT (Iberis, various species): The 35 or so species of Candytuft are scattered around the Mediterranean region. The dwarf ish, annual, white-flowered Rocket Candytuft, I. amara (from amarus, referring to its bitter flavor), is often grown and may become weedy. The closely related I. umbellata (in reference to its flower cluster) is somewhat larger and comes in shades of rose, red, and purplish. Another group of species represented in our picture by I. sempervirens is perennial and evergreen ("semper-virens"); other species of this group come in varying colors. Iberis is the ancient name for Spain, from whence came several cultivated species. The English com mon name does not refer to something eaten but is a corruption of Cande (Candia), the ancient name for the island of Crete, where another species is native; hence the "tufted plant from Cande," or "Cande-tuft." On the terrace are two other Mediterranean plants often grown in warm regions. One is the Italian Stone Pine, Pinus Pinea, the source of the commercial European "pine nuts" used as food. The other is the True Aloe, Aloe Vera. It has been found recently that the juice from the succulent leaves of this Aloe is helpful in the treatment of X-ray burns.