Columbian Exchange quiz results

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

After late September (2011), you may have found a twelve-question quiz on our website about the Columbian Exchange. As we noted then, the Columbian Exchange refers to human contact between the Old World and the New World that began with Christopher Columbus’s First Expedition, in 1492.

As part of that Exchange, species of plants and critters were moved from the Old World to the New World and vice versa. The quiz offered twelve species and asked you if they originated in the New or Old World.

The species mentioned in the quiz were maize/corn, coffee, wheat, peanuts, potatoes, lemon trees, chickens, turkeys, pecans/pecan trees, tobacco, peaches/peach trees, and okra.

Thanks if you answered the quiz and submitted your answers. Seventeen people did—or, rather, we received seventeen sets of answers as of 24 November 2011.

The correct answers are as follows….

Columbian Exchange scientific names 2011

Maize, commonly known as corn to most citizens of the USA, is a grain that was domesticated in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. Read about maize in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, maize is a New World species.

Coffee, the drink, is prepared from the beans of a plant that’s thought to have been first used in northeast Africa. Read about coffee in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, coffee is an Old World species.

Wheat is a cereal that was domesticated in the Middle East (southeastern Turkey, the Fertile Crescent area, the Levant), although it is now grown all over the globe. Read about wheat in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, wheat is an Old World species.

Peanuts are a member of the legume (bean) family, and the earliest ones are known from Peru; the peanuts we eat grow underground. Read about peanuts in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, peanuts are a New World species.

Potatoes now have thousands of varieties worldwide, but the first ones came from southern Peru. Read about potatoes in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, potatoes are a New World species.

Lemon trees, along with all citrus species, came from southeastern Asia, in what is now India, Burma, and China. Read about lemons in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, lemons are an Old World species.

Chickens are a domesticated version of Red Junglefowl, which are native to the Southeast Asia region. Read about chickens in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, chickens are an Old World species.

Domesticated turkeys originated in what is now west-central Mexico. Read about domesticated turkeys in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, turkeys are a New World species.

Pecan trees are a species of hickory, and are native to the lower Mississippi River valley and central southern North America. Read about pecans in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, pecan trees are a New World species.

Cultivated tobacco is one of many worldwide species, but the one commonly used for commercial cigarettes, pipe tobacco, etc., is from prehistoric eastern North America. Read about smoking tobacco in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, common smoking tobacco is a New World species.

Peach trees are native to China, and spread west to Persia, then across the Mediterranean and to western Europe by the 17th century. Read about peaches in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, peaches are an Old World species.

Okra is a plant that originated in Africa, although it is now commonly used in dishes in India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Read about okra in this Wikipedia entry. Thus, okra is an Old World species.

How many of these were a surprise to you?

Here is a table showing the percentage of correct answers for each species.

Columbian exchange correct answers chart

What can we conclude about our test-takers knowledge of the origins of commonly known species used today? First, readers of thesga.org are not big online quiz-takers—only seventeen took the quiz over three months. Second, our collective knowledge is irregular. Many of us (based on our small sample of seventeen self-selected volunteers) know the origins of maize/corn, wheat, chickens, and okra, but we are less knowledgeable about the history of coffee, for example.

In short, the results of this quiz suggest that we would benefit from a little agronomic research on the origins of important crops and species that are commonly used around the globe today.