In Guns, Germs, and Steel, what does plant domestication mean?

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Chapter 7 describes the process of domesticating plants. Plant domestication is a crucial part of making agriculture a sustainable process. Most wild plants offer small or less than palatable fruits, seeds, leaves, or roots.

Domestication of plants first occurred around 11,000 years ago in the Middle East. By selectively breeding...

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Chapter 7 describes the process of domesticating plants. Plant domestication is a crucial part of making agriculture a sustainable process. Most wild plants offer small or less than palatable fruits, seeds, leaves, or roots.

Domestication of plants first occurred around 11,000 years ago in the Middle East. By selectively breeding grains, these early farmers were able to create a food supply that was easy to cultivate and yielded higher returns than wild grains would have.

By replanting and cultivating strains of plants with desirable traits, farmers have been able to greatly reshape the way humans eat and construct societies. Domesticated plants are better able to survive certain weather events, they grow faster, and provide more to eat. For instance, sunflowers were cultivated by the peoples of North America to grow quickly and produce numerous large edible seeds. The wild sunflower would be hardly recognizable today with its few tiny seeds. Wild apples are small and sour. Compare those to the large sweet apples farmed around the world today.

In the book, Jared Diamond credits the cultivation of plants with early civilization's ability to rapidly grow its population and expand into new regions. Without this domestication, the amount of labor and time required to feed a large population would have been prohibitive.

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Plant domestication is the process of changing plants to make them more useful to human beings and then purposely raising them as crops (rather than simply gathering their fruit or seeds wherever they happen to be found).

Domesticated plants are physically different from their wild ancestors and relatives.  They tend to have larger fruits and seeds, for example.  This has come about through a process in which people select the plants that have the biggest fruits or seeds.  The people plant those exclusively and eventually the typical fruit or seed becomes much bigger than the original.

This process of changing the plant to make it more useful is part of plant domestication.  The other part is actually cultivating the plant rather than simply searching for it and gathering its fruit.

This answer can be found on the first page or two of Chapter 7.

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