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On the origin of the treeSpondias mombinin Africa

Journal of Historical Geography
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.jhg.2005.02.001
  • Spondias Mombin
  • Columbian Exchange
  • Africa
  • History
  • Agriculture
  • Biogeography
  • Plant Invasions
  • Earth Science
  • Ecology
  • Geography


Abstract This paper examines evidence for the origin of the tree Spondias mombin in Africa, where it is generally described as introduced from the Neotropics. Based on biogeographical, ecological, and historical evidence, this paper argues that the tree reached Africa via natural, long-distance dispersal, and should be considered an African native plant. The idea that it is introduced appeared in 1868, when it was a scientifically justifiable conclusion reflecting the limitations of nineteenth-century biogeographical knowledge. By the early twentieth century, representing Spondias mombin as a human introduction in Africa was no longer scientifically justifiable because of advances in knowledge of the African flora and plant dispersal ecology. Nonetheless, most authors continued to represent the tree as introduced, in part because such representation was consonant with dominant images of the African environment: (a) that the continent had suffered extensive deforestation in the recent past, and (b) that Africa's flora was depauperate in fruit trees prior to the coming of Europeans. Recent authors continue to describe Spondias mombin as introduced because they have not sufficiently considered the historic contexts of primary and secondary sources on Neotropical plant introductions in Africa. This paper concludes that the human role in creating the African portion of the trans-Atlantic tropical flora has been overemphasized. Natural plant dispersal across the Atlantic may be more frequent than generally accepted.

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