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Lovely nightshades

Solanum maternum Bohs. Photo courtesy of Michael Nee, Flora of Parque Nacional Amboro

As long as we're on the topic of lost crops of the Incas (or any pre-Colombian peoples for that matter), it's amazing to note the tremendous contribution that has been made by the Nightshade family (genus Solanum). It's a big family, with some 90 genera and 2,600 species, and it has spawned some serious overacheivers like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes, petunias, morning glories and tobacco.

Since their "discovery" in the 1500s, these plants have pretty much changed the way people around the world eat, garden and smoke. I sometimes wonder: What were Thai curries were like before the chile pepper was brought over from the Americas? What did southern Italians put on their pasta? What did the French fry?

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