5000 – Plants

This is a part of the Living Field web site is devoted to the Plants of the croplands and their uses since agriculture began over 5000  years ago.

5000 Years – The plants is arranged by use and ecological function. The main staple food crops are the cereals and the legumes. There are also fibres, oils, weeds, crops that became weeds, dyes, medicinals, ‘root’ tubers and vegetables.

Each section has an introduction, an account of the main plants of each type grown globally,  the past and present status in the croplands, and a page of sources and references, including things to do.

Pages of 5000 Years – The Plants are being built and will be published over the coming weeks and months in 2015 and 2016, beginning with ….

And to follow …. weeds, cereals, legumes, medicinals, root crops,  vegetables and nuts and berries.,


Nearly all the crops and many of the weeds of the croplands come from outside Britain. The cereals – wheat and barley – first arrived from southern and eastern Europe in the neolithic, over 5000 years ago. The Celts, the Romans, the Christian missionaries and many other settlers and migrants each brought new useful plants to add to the mix. Seeds for many medicinals, dyes, oils and fibres were  imported. In the last few hundred years, they have been joined by  turnip, potato, maize and rapeseed.

Some of the existing plants of seashore and hill moved in with these crops. As the croplands spread, many of the native plants disappeared or retreated to the fringes of managed fields, or found refuge in the margins of woods and wetlands.

But a tough cadre remained – we call them weeds, but most were here well before modern agriculture. Many of them support the farmland food web – which in turn helps protect crops. And many are themselves medicinals, dyes and food.

The croplands are now productive,  yielding as much as any part of north-west Europe, yet the increase of fertiliser and pesticide since the late 1960s has driven many of the wild plants and weeds out of fields and has reduced the small animals – beetles, spiders, flies, bees – that depend on the wild plants. Some plants that were common are now almost extinct here.

The croplands – like developed agriculture anywhere – is at turning point. It must decide whether to carry on as it is, and collapse sooner probably than later, or else change to ensure a sustainable future.

Here’s to another 5000 years ……

Sources references links contacts

Each section of 5000 – Plants has a list of web-links, books and places to visit. The following provide general background.

Darwin T. 1996, 2008.The Scots herbal. Publisher: Mercat/Berlinn.

Dickson C, Dickson J. 2000. Plants and people in ancient Scotland. Tempus Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire. 320 pages. ISBN 0 7524 1905 6.

Grigson G. 1958. The Englishman’s flora. Paperback published 1975 by Paladin, St Albans, UK. 542 pages.

Milliken W, Bridgewater S. 2004. Flora Celtica: plants and people in Scotland. Publisher: Berlinn.

Fenton A, Veitch K (eds) Farming and the Land. Volume 2 in Scottish Life and Society: A compendium of Scottish Ethnology. Publisher: John Donald, 1172 pages.

Wildflower Europe has a downloadable pdf file from Plantlife on Scotland

General web links

Nadia Sommers, who is a visitor to the site, suggested these web links.

Plant care guides http://www.garden.org/plantguide/

Flower care tips http://www.arenaflowers.com/features/flower-care/

[Last update, 27 April 2016: content still in progress ]


sustainable croplands