pherePLANTS AND DISEASES IN
THE WESTERN WORLD
In 1215, a man named Marco Polo embarked on a journey towards Western Asia and China. His reason for going to Asia was to gain spices, silks, and other luxurious items only the Asians made. Along his journey, Polo soon realized that the Earth was larger than he thought and that there must be some easier way to get to china. Not too long after his journey, the Ottoman Turks conquouered Constantinople. Constantinople (present day Istanbul) is the city, in Turkey, that divides Eastern Europe from Western Asia. Constantinople (which was previously held by European Christians) was a major port and trading center for the Europeans. It was also a major turnpike in the only safe route to Asia. Basically, the only way one could get to Asia, was through Constantinople. Since the Ottoman Turks held this city and charged outrageous prices on goods, another route to Asia was sought out by the Europeans. Vasco De Gamma found a water route, around Africa, to get to Asia. But it was Christopher Columbus’s choice in a water route to Asia that changed the world forever. Columbus sailed west, along the Atlantic, to get to Eastern Asia. However, Columbus did not know there was a HUGE landmass blocking him from Asia. This landmass was North and South America. Columbus landed on Barbados and brought with him some fellow sailors, food, and a few personal items. However. Columbus did not know that by landing on Barbados, he would create a European frenzy to conqueror the “New World”. By the 1700’s Europeans accomplished this goal. They accomplished this goal with the help of thousands of Europeans with guns and the help of foreign organisms and diseases. If these organisms and diseases did not sack the Natives the way they did, maybe today we would be speaking a Native language instead of English.
The very first organisms that reached the New World were, of course, human beings from Europe. Along with these humans, came European plants. The Europeans who chose to settle the Americas needed to bring European animals, such as sheep, cattle, horses, etc. In order to feed these animals, Europeans needed to bring European plants. When these plants were introduced to the fertile American land, they started spreading like wildfire and destroyed every Native, weaker plant in their way. Because all the Native plants were being pushed aside by the stronger European plants, Native animals who fed on the Native plants began disappearing. Maybe they disappeared due to starvation. Maybe they disappeared due to being shot and killed by European farmers because they were feeding on their crops. There are numerous possibilities. Not only were herbivores hurt by these new plants, but omnivores and carnivores were also hurt. Meat-eating animals found it very hard to find plant-eating prey. Because of this, some meat-eating animals disappeared due to the lack of food. Native Americans were also hurt by these new plants. These plants destroyed the plants the Natives consumed. Therefore they had to move to new land that had not been infected with the European plants. They also had to move because the buffalo and deer they fed on moved because of the European onslaught. This, in turn, opened up more land for the Europeans to move into. Plants were very important in helping the Europeans take over the New World. But these new plants were not as deadly and effective as the new diseases Europeans brought.
Before the Europeans “discovered” the New World, the had to deal with diseases such as measles, mumps, smallpox, dysentery, the plaque, and other diseases. Over time, they began becoming immune to these diseases. When the Europeans began settling the New World, they unknowingly brought these diseases with them. The Natives had no immunity to these diseases and began dropping like flies. Hundreds of thousands of Natives died from these diseases. The Aztecs, Incas, and most of the Eastern American tribes were decimated by European disease. Because more and more Natives began dying, the European conquerors encountered less and less Native resistance. The less the resistance, the easier it became for the Europeans to dominate the Americas. Not only were American Natives decimated, but Australian Aborigines were also destroyed by European disease. However, disease was not the only weapon used against the Natives. The Europeans had advanced technology that consisted of guns and armor. These weapons also played a major role in European rule. What seems odd to most people is the reason why Europeans did not succumb to Native diseases. These diseases were weak and had very little effect on the Europeans because the European immune system was so strong.