Plant species introduced by foreigners according to folk tradition in Norway and some other European countries: Xenophobic tales or not?
Background In their quest to understand and interpret nature, people have frequently sought religious or divine origins for plant species and their characteristics. Less often, historical events or persons are involved. This study comprises eleven cases of the latter kind, all claiming that plant species have been introduced by foreigners or at least from foreign lands. Methods Based on literature data and a few cases recorded during my own ethnobotanical field work, eleven European examples of pseudo-historical plant origins are presented here, including Cakile maritima, Cicuta virosa, Lathyrus japonicus, Leymus arenarius, Primula vulgaris, and Scopolia carniolica in Norway, Heracleum mantegazzianum and/or H. persicum in Denmark, Phoenix dactylifera and P. theophrastii in Greece, and Jacobaea vulgaris in Scotland. Results The only common trait in these stories is that foreigner or at least foreign lands are claimed as sources of the plant species. In most cases, the “historical” explanations given in folk tradition are demonstrably at odds with reality. In those cases that involve poisonous or potentially harmful species (Cicuta virosa, Heracleum mantegazzianum and/or H. persicum, Jacobaea vulgaris), or the “useless” Phoenix theophrastii, with its inedible fruits, the stories may be interpreted as xenophobic, blaming foreigners for introducing dangerous or worthless species. The remaining examples merely suggest a search for exotic and seemingly rational, if erroneous, origins for plant species and stands that people considered strange and unusual. Conclusion The spreading vectors assumed in folk tradition are correct and well documented, e.g. ship cargos (including goods and packing materials), which are responsible for introducing ballast plants and other anthropochores, and wartime activities, introducing a broad range of species (polemochores). They do not, however, apply to the species included in this study, which are either indigenous plants or introduced ornamentals. The foreigners appearing in the folk tales serve mostly as suitably exotic explanations for what is perceived “alien” plants.
Published version. Source at http://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-015-0056-9.