You may have noticed a change of scenery at the Silo Center in Turkey Run Park. Brilliant greens, deep red, and pops of blue, orange, and pink may have caught your eye as you head towards the glowing yellow silo. What are all these plants?
Welcome to the Industrial Agriculture Garden! Previously perennial beds, the Industrial Agriculture Garden is now home to a variety of crops and decorative flowers. The beds provide a taste of the crops that shaped United States history. Think plants can’t shape history? Think again.
Some plants’ names give little insight into the plant itself. On the other hand, some are quite literal. Dipper gourd causes no confusion; these long-necked, bulbous gourds are dried and hollowed out to form dippers and ladles. Cultivated for thousands of years, these gourds show up in archaeological sites from here in the United States to South America and to Africa. History is not the only place for dipper gourds; rarely will you get through an arts and crafts fair without seeing these gourds transformed into art pieces.
Trail of Tears Corn
Sink your teeth into the juicy kernels of a corncob and summer has officially started. Listen for the soft, dry rustling of corn husks waving on their stalks marking the arrival of autumn. Corn is a vital crop for Kentucky, and was even more so for the thousands of Native Americans displaced by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. During this dark time in United States history, the Cherokee were one of several groups forcibly removed from their land by the US government. The Cherokee brought with them seeds of corn to grow in the new land; the corn growing in the Industrial Agriculture Garden is descended from the same seeds. Trail of Tears corn has a multi-color cob with kernels ranging from dark brown and blue to white and yellow.
Imagine the broad, bright green leaves of tobacco blanketing the ground and you will see the land as the Jean family saw it when they farmed what is now the Silo Center. People have historically ingested tobacco in various forms during ceremonies, as pain killers, and for recreation, yet the plant is inedible to most animals because of its high nicotine content. Consequently, tobacco makes great pesticide, and is currently gaining attention as an organic alternative to chemicals. Indigenous groups in the Americas introduced Europeans to tobacco, who then built an entire economy on the crop. The vast amount of labor needed to produce tobacco outpaced the system of indentured servitude, and led to an enormous increase in the importation of African slaves.
Tobacco, for all its proliferation in the Chesapeake region, did very poorly farther south. Instead, the southern economy was built on cotton. Cotton grew very well in the south; so well that the European immigrants and plantation owners kept demanding more and more land. These demands played a huge role in pushing the Indian Removal Act through Congress. Plantations boomed, and the cotton economy drove the slave trade to extreme proportions.
Jumbo Virginia Peanut
When is a nut not a nut? When it’s a peanut, of course. An unusual plant that flowers above ground yet grows its fruit belowground, this legume belongs to the Fabaceae family with beans and peas. Don’t let the word legume intimidate you; a legume is simply a dry fruit contained within a shell or pod. The peanut plant is native to central South American, and arrived in North American during the pre-colonial era, where it was often referred to as a “goober” or “pindar pea”. Peanuts provided an excellent source of protein during Civil War food shortages, helped fight malnutrition, and stood in for lard and shortening, lamp fuel, and locomotive lubricant. By the late 1800’s, P.T. Barnum was hawking “Get your hot roasted peanuts!” under the Big Top, fueling the nation’s desire for peanuts, as circus wagons trundled across the country. In the early 1900, as the boll weevil destroyed the South’s cotton crop, Virginia farmers switched to planting peanuts, which eventually replaced cotton as the South’s big cash crop.
The Industrial Agriculture beds are tangible history; how many times do students learn about cotton in US history, yet couldn’t identify the plant? And has anyone ever seen a peanut growing? Accompanying these crops in the Industrial Garden are artichokes, sunflowers, and several herbaceous perennials. The perennials – may night, red riding hood, and Dewey blue – were purchased as plugs, while the tobacco was donated. The remainder of the plants were grown from seeds with help from our Wednesday Morning Gardening volunteers.