the study of plants and their characteristics, is closely
related to agriculture and pharmacology, which were both
fields of achievement in Al-Andalus. Beyond plants used for
food and fiber crops, or medicine, gardening was an
important contribution during Muslim rule in the Iberian
Peninsula. As in so many other cultural and scientific
fields, there was a tendency -- in the face of huge amounts
of evidence to the contrary -- to ignore or downplay the
achievements of Al-Andalus under Muslim rule. This has
recently begun to change, and the influence of Islamic
gardens and botanists has begun to find recognition.
Identification of plants cultivated in Andalusian gardens
between the 10th and 15th centuries
can be traced to several main works of botany. One such
source is the
Cordovan Calendar, an almanac of weather,
planting and harvesting times, and Christian holy days. This
book dates to the reign of al-Hakam II, Umayyad ruler of
Al-Andalus, between 961 and 976 CE. The
Cordovan Calendar lists over one hundred plants.
book of Ibn Bassal produced in Toledo (ca. 1075-1080) also
lists over 100 ornamental and useful plants. Ibn Awwam wrote
a huge encyclopedia of agriculture around 1138 CE at Seville
in which he named and described about 160 different plants
and their uses. Ibn al-Awwam’s book was translated into
Spanish and published as late as 1802 at Madrid, and it has
helped to restore the botanical history of Al-Andalus to its
work is the
Treatise on Agriculture by Ibn Luyun of 1348 CE,
at Seville, which lists about the same number of plants.
These rising numbers indicate that new plants were being
introduced and successfully grown in gardens of Al-Andalus.
If it were true that the Arabic writers were only copying
ancient works like those of the Romans or Greeks, the Arabic
writers would have been able to name only as many as those
works contain, or fewer. In fact, a famous classical work on
horticulture or botany was by Palladius (ca. 380 CE), which
lists only about 76 different plants. European herbal books
of the early Medieval period list around the same number as
Palladius, and even some of these were imported plants.
Charlemagne’s court records list fewer than 100 plants. Much
later, in about 1300, a Master John Gardner of England
listed about 100 plants, about a third of which were also
grown in Al-Andalus. Another English botanical garden of the
period lists over 250 plants, of which 107 were grown in
the plants introduced to or cultivated in Al-Andalus were
banana, date palm, jujube, myrtle, oleander, olive, sweet
orange, and watermelon. Sesame, sugar-cane and pistachio,
apricot, cherry, and peach were grown in Andalusian gardens.
Fruit trees were especially difficult to introduce, because
the fruit retains its quality only through grafting of
branches onto sturdy root stock or existing trees.
grown for their beauty, such as the iris, jasmine, types of
lily, morning glory, narcissus, hollyhocks, and marigolds
are identified in these Andalusian works. Many fragrant
herbs and medicinal plants like anise, caraway, and carob
were grown there. Vegetables like spinach, asparagus,
cauliflower, artichoke, carrots, and many types of beans
were introduced with culinary fashions. They were also very
nutritious, and helped to improve people’s overall health.
Industrial crops like hemp for rope and sacks, thistle, and
dye-plants were also included in these sources. Alfalfa,
whose name comes from Arabic, was an important plant for
animal feed, and also restored the nitrogen in soil during
crop rotation. Andalusian botanists knew about the life
cycles of these plants, the soil and water conditions they
needed, and how they could be reproduced. They wrote about
crossing (by planting together) wild and cultivated
varieties of plants to make stronger or better varieties.
Andalusian botanists built on the works of botanists in
eastern Muslim lands, and travelers as well as merchants
helped to spread these useful plants, while agricultural
policies, irrigation, and cultivation of fine gardens in
Al-Andalus provided the environment in which these plants
could thrive and spread further.
works of botany were those of Abul Abbas al-Nabati or Ibn
Rumiyya (d. 1239 CE), Ibn Bajja (d. 1138 CE), who wrote
about the reproduction of male and female plants, al-Ghafiqi
(d. 1166 CE), on medicinal plants, and the
botanical-pharmacological encyclopedia of Ibn Baytar
(1197-1248 CE). These authors were scientists, not merely
describing or cataloging, but developing knowledge and
putting it into practical applications that served their
information collected by these botanists was carried to the
farmers who needed it to improve their plants, to the
markets where people could purchase seeds and plants for
their gardens, or medicinal plants for the health of their
families. These scholars knew and compared the popular names
for plants in many languages.
Ultimately, the knowledge of plants that the botanists of
Al-Andalus and other Muslim lands collected, developed, and
disseminated served to spread cultivation of many useful,
beautiful, nutritious, and health-giving plants. These
plants improved the lives of people in other parts of the
world, and greatly enriched the gardens of Europeans north
Europeans colonized the New World, they introduced many of
these plants, just as they received many from the New World.
Without the varied agriculture of Al-Andalus, the Columbian
Exchange might not have resulted in the global economic and
agricultural exchange that is reflected in supermarkets
around the world today.
John H. Harvey. “Garden Plants of Islamic Spain: A Fresh
Garden History, Vol. 20, No. 1. (Spring, 1992),
pp. 71-82. Retrieved at
Dede Fairchild Ruggles.
Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic
Spain. Pennsylvania State
University Press, 2000.
Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World.
Cambridge University Press, 1983. pp. 117-8.
Gardens, Nature, and Conservation in Islam, selected quotes
Matt Brehm and Wendy McClure.
Alcazar Garden, Córdoba; Generalife Garden, Granada;
Alhambra Garden, Granada, Spain, at Introduction to The
Built Environment and Environmental Design Disciplines.
The Expression of Cultural Values Ancient Egypt to the
University of Idaho Department of Architecture,
Garden water channel, Seville,
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