Thomas Jefferson was the United States minister to France following the great American, Benjamin Franklin in 1785. While acting as the French minister to the United States, Jefferson surveyed crops of agriculture in France searching for fruit trees, nut trees, grape vines, berry plants, and many other potentially useful crops that might be commercially grown in the United States. Many of these seed plants and trees were exported to the American colonists and planters for experimental growing on United States farms and plantations. In exchange to the French, many native plants of the United States were exported to France and Europe for testing. Plants and trees such as red, and black raspberries, scuppernong grapevines, muscadine grape vines, pecan tree seed, Citrus seed, and plants such as mutated cultivars of orange, lime, grapefruit, kumquat, lemon, and tangerine, that centuries before had been introduced by the Spanish colonists into Florida from Europe and Africa. Grains such as corn and the famous American tobacco products were also favorite imports to Europe. The Indian Blood peach tree produced exceptional fruit, even from planted seed, and American grapevines, wild plum and cherry trees were used as root stock for grafting fruit trees and grapevines. Mulberry trees, pawpaw trees, and strawberry plants were also exciting new plant introductions into Europe. American native nut trees such as the American chestnut, Castanea dentata, and the Chinquapin nut, Castanea pumila, as well as many species of Hickory trees, Pecan trees (Carya illinoinenis), several species of walnut trees including Juglans nigra, and the American filbert, Corylus americana (Hazlenut) were all received for commercial agricultural testing in European countries.
Thomas Jefferson made a note on his plant interests to the State of Virginia in the year 1787 #VI, “A notice of the mines and other subterranean riches, its trees, plants, fruits, etc.” with his interests in “the orchards produce apples, pears, cherries, quinces, peaches, nectarines, apricots, almonds, and plumbs.” Thomas Jefferson was also a learned botanist who could intelligently discuss the fruit trees, berry plants, grapevines, and nut trees in the Latinzed, scientific language with the agricultural elite authorities of his time. In his writing to the state of Virginia, he wrote: “Scarlet strawberries, Fragaria Virginiana of Millar; Whortleberries, Vaccinium uliginosum; Wild gooseberies, Ribes grossularia; Cranberries, Vaccinium oxycoccus; Black raspberries, Rubus occidentalis; Blackberries, Rubus fruticosus; Dewberries, Rubus caesius; Cloud-berries, Rubus chamaemorus.”
About native wild and escaped plants, trees, and vines, Jefferson reported on wild fruits like Elderberry, Elder, Sambucus nigra; Papaw, Annona triloba” and the mulberry, proper for its food, grows kindly, pomegranates and figs. Wild cherry, Prunus Virginiana, Cherokee plumb, Punus sylvestris fructu majori, Wild plumb, Prunus sylvestris fructu minori, Clayton, Wild crab-apple, Pyrus coronaria; red mulberry, Morus rubra; Persimmon, Diospyros Virginiana.
Thomas Jefferson had a great interest in timber trees from which lumber was made into dwellings, furniture, tools, fuel, etc. He reported: “Black birch, Betula nigra; White birch, Betula alba; Beach, Fagus sylvatica; Ash, Fraxinus Americana; Fraxinus Novae Angliae, Millar; Elm, Ulmus Americana, Willow, Salix Query species?; Sweet Gum, Liquidamber styaciflua. Plane-tree, Platanus cooidentalis; Poplar liriodendron tulipifera; Populus heterophylla; Black poplar, Populus nigra; Aspen, Populus tremulus; Linden or lime, Tilia Americana; Red flowering maple, Acer rubrum; Horse-chestnut, or Buck’s-eye, Aesculus pavia; Catalpa, Bignonia catalpa; Umbrella, Magnolia tripetala; Swamp laurel, Magnolia glauca; Cucumber-tree, Magnolia acuminata; Portugal bay, Laurus indica; Red Bay, Laurus borbonia; Dwarf-rose bay, Rhododendron maxiumum; Laurel of the Western country, Qu. species?”
A group of smaller trees reported by Jefferson was “Holly, Ilex aquifolium, Cockspur hawthorn, Crataegus coccinea; Spindle-tree, Euronymus Europaeus; Evergreen spindle tree, Euonymus Americanus; Candleberry myrtle, Myrica cerifera.”
Oak trees were valuable to the early colonists for use in building houses, furniture, tools and fuels, Jefferson listed these as: “Black Oak, Quercus nigra; White Oak, Quercus alba; Red oak, Quercus rubra; Willow Oak, Quercus phellos; Chestnut Oak, Quercus prinus; Black jack Oak, Quercus aquatica, Clayton, Query?; Ground Oak, Quercus pumila, Clayton; Live Oak, Quercus Virginiana, Millar;
Many flowering trees were planted in Thomas Jefferson’s garden estate at Monticello, such as Dogwood trees, Grancy Greybeard, Redbud tree and Locust trees listed as: “Wild pimento, Laurus benzoin; Sassafras, Laurus sassafras; Locust, Robinia pseudo-acacia; Honey-locust, Gleiditsia la; Dogwood, Cornus florida; Fringe or snowdrop tree, Chionanthus virginica; Redbud, or Judas-tree, Cercis, canadensis.”
The importance of evergreens was obvious to Thomas Jefferson, and he listed them as: “Black or pitch-pine, Pinus taeda; White pine, Pinus strobus; Yellow pine, Pinus Virgincia; Spruce pine, Pinus foliis singularibus, Clayton; Hemlock spruce fir, Pinus Canadensis; Aborvitae , Thuya occidentalis; Juniper, Juniperus virginica (called cedar with us) Cypress Cupressus disticha; White cedar, Cupressus Thyoides.”
Jefferson reported that many cash agricultural crops of America were of native or mysterious origin that included: “Tobacco, Nicotiana; Maize, Zea Mays; Round potatoes, Solanum tuberosum; Pumpkins, (Squash) Cucurbita pepo; Cymlings, Cucurbita verrucosa; Squashes, Cucurbita melopepo”
Besides the production of crops from native plants, Jefferson wrote that American farms produced: “wheat, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, broom corn, and Indian corn, rice, tobacco, hemp, flax, cotton and indigo.”
Long and the round potatoes, “turnips, carrots, parsneps, pumpkins, ground nuts.” Ground nuts were today’s peanut, Arachis hypogaea.
Thomas Jefferson listed many grasses and grains in his report to include: “Lucerne, St. Foin, Burnet, Timothy, ray and orchard grass, red, white and yellow clover, greenswerd, blue grass, and crab grass, Panic, Panicum of many species; Indian millet, Holcus laxus; Holcus striosus; Wild oat, Zizania aquatica; Wild pea, Dolichas of Clayton; Lupine, Lupinus perennis; Wild hop, Humulus lupulus.”
Thomas Jefferson reported that American gardens were producing in the year 1787; “Musk melons, water melons, tomatas, okra, pomegranates, figs, and the esculent plants of Europe, Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus; Long potatoes, Convolvulas batatas;”
Various ornamental plants such as flowering Sweetshrub, Poke Weed Salad, Passion Flower, Jerusalem Artichoke and Tuckshoe were: “Upright honeysuckle, Azalea nudiflora; Calycanthus floridus; American aloe, Agave Virginica; Sumach Rhus, Qu species?; Poke, Phytolacca decandra; Itea Virginica; Granadillas, Maycocks, Maracocks, Passiflora incarnata; Tuchahoe, Lycoperdon tuber.”
Thomas Jefferson reported useful vines: “Ivy, Hedera quinquefolia, Trumpet honeysuckle, Yellow jasmine, Bignonia sempervirens.” and the seemingly insignificant “Long Moss, Tillandsia Usneoides”
Medicinal herbs such as Datura, Marshmallow, Ginseng and Jimson Weed were reported along with: “Senna, Cassia Ligustrina; Arsmart, Polygonum Sagittatum; Clivers, or goose-grass, Galium spurium; Lobelia of several species; Palma Christi, Ricinus; James-town weed, Datura Stramonium; Mallow, Mallow rotundifolia; Syrian mallow, Hibiscus moschentos; Hibiscus virginicus; Indian mallow, Sida rhombifolia; Sida abutilon; Virginia Marshmallow, Napaea hermaphrodita; Napaea dioica; Indian physic, Spiraea trifoliata; Euphoria Ipecacuanhae; Pleurisy root, Asclepias decumbens, Virginia snake-root, Aristolochia serpentaria, Black snake-root, Actaea racemosa; Seneca rattlesnake-root, Polygala Senega; Valerian, Valeriana locusta radiata; Gentiana Saponaria, Villosa and Centaurium; Ginseng, Panax quinquefolium; Angelica, Angelica sylvestris; Casava, Jatropha urens.”
Thomas Jefferson was an amazing man with a genius and intelligence that helped to make the United States a great nation, not only because of his political contribution as a formulator of the United States Constitution, as a great United States minister to France and the third President of the United States, but Jefferson also was an accomplished writer and farmer.