Carolina Gold

In the early 1700’s, rice was South Carolina’s main export — no wonder the variety grown was called Carolina Gold. But where did it come from?

The first reported import in the New World of what is thought to be Carolina Gold occurred in 1685, when a slave ship from Madagascar unloaded a cargo of rice in Charleston, South Carolina.

So was that Indian Ocean island the ultimate source of Carolina Gold? USDA geneticists think they know, and have written about it in a new paper. Anna McClung and Robert Fjellstrom looked for molecular markers for Carolina Gold among the material in USDA rice germplasm collection. The best genetic fit — confirmed by close morphological similarity — was actually with an accession from Ghana, not Madagascar.

Questions remain. Maybe material from Carolina — originally derived from somewhere else — found its way back to Africa.

But geographer Judith Carney of the University of California, Los Angeles, says a Ghanaian origin of Carolina Gold fits with the idea that Carolina Gold arrived in the colony as food on slave ships and was then planted by the slaves.

Efforts are underway to bring this historical variety back into commercial cultivation.

14 Replies to “Carolina Gold”

  1. Carolina Gold from the Gold Coast, it sounds logic, doesn’t it?

    But if the variety was so popular in the US, the US may have functioned as a centre of diffusion. Seeds may have crossed the Atlantic in the pockets of missionaries on their way to Africa, not in the hair of slaves on their way to America. Or perhaps it has gone back and forward across the Atlantic more than once.

    To find out, a wholly different type of study is needed.

  2. Yes, it does make sense. And confirms some gullah tales from the lowcoutry too…
    But still no report mentions if is an Oriza sativa or an Oriza glaberrima variety.

  3. Thanks Ed. That National Geographic story is about the paper that Luigi’s original post was about too. Sorry not to reply sooner, but we’ve been a bit busy …

  4. I don’t think this article affirms Carolina Gold is a glaberrima, although glaberrima is mentioned as a species (also) occurring in West Africa. It states that the USDA compared it with rices from Madagascar and Indonesia, which would be a more obvious choice if it were a sativa.

    Perhaps Carolina Gold is a sativa x glaberrima cross? These crosses are present in famers’ fields all over West Africa (noted in Mali [when it was still French Sudan], Sierra Leone, and Guinea).

  5. And did that ship really come from Madagascar? According to the (UK) rice association, it was it on its way there.

    They also claim that, in the late 18th Century, Thomas Jefferson smuggled rice seed out of Italy during a diplomatic mission. Supposedly the occupying Brits had taken home all of the rice harvest, leaving no seeds. This seems rather farfetched, and certainly does not rhyme with Carolina Gold still being around in the US (whether in genebanks or in the field).

    I wonder how many public figure crop distribution stories there are. Another one is the story of Sir Walter Raleigh introducing spuds to the British Isles, from Virginia, around 1600. It is not true. But this being the year of the potato, you have probably heard of it.

  6. Apparently Peter the Great brought sunflowers to Russia from Holland. Whether he fancied smoking the leaves, or simply the joy of a heirbloom flowerbud salad, I do not know, but it did take off (partly for religious reasons) and even made it all the way to top by becoming Russia’s national flower. Beyond the occasional ornamental (in my youth there were competitions to grow the longest plant) they are not seen in Holland these days. Surely due to the rampant lack of leadership in the country. Poor Vincent van Gogh had to go all the way to Arles to paint them, and that trip did not end well.

  7. Didn’t Raleigh introduce and/or popularize tobacco? There is definitely a Big Men meta-narrative of plant introduction/collecting. I’ve used it myself, in the collecting manual, as it is a useful way of engaging the uninitiated. And fun to boot. The competing meta-narrative, of course, sees the efforts of millions of oppressed peasants saving and exchanging seeds with their neighbours as more important. Following the terminology popularized by the puncuated equilibrium vs gradualist argument in evolution, one could, I suppose, characterize the two positions as collecting by jerks and collecting by creeps.

  8. Nice. In this case both are obviously on-going and relevant to understand agbiodiv. I wonder if, like in Evolution, anyone would argue that one is important and the other is not. Do genebank breeder types emphasize the value of jerks, whereas the grassroot diversity fair in situ types focus on creeps? The relative contribution of the two processes will differ by crop and region and figuring that should make for interesting research (and action). As for the terminology I would say diffusion, not collection. So “diffusion by creeps and (not or) diffusion by jerks”. I believe this makes Columbus (c.s.) the greatest jerk in history.

  9. In the case of Carolina Gold not the role of “oppressed peasants”, but that of African farmers and African slaves on colonial plantations is emphasized (by Judith Carney). With shaky genetic inferences and interesting historical speculation a “jerk” role is claimed for Uncle Ben.

    It is more important, however, to know more about the anonymous creeps, and not just because in order to make jerks out of them. You can’t eat fame.

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