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Wild rice might have become the consummate alternative foodstuff of the British Empire. This edible native North American plant was the subject of significant, if subsequently forgotten, investigation between the Seven Years’ War and the Napoleonic Wars. During this period of ongoing military conflict, imperial expansion, and subsistence crises, colonists, naturalists, and officials also grappled with the possibility that climates were undergoing continuous, perhaps permanent, transformation. They envisioned wild rice as the pioneer plant of a responsive imperial ecology, uniquely suited to weathering all political seasons and untold natural upheavals. Neglecting Native American horticultural practice, they wrote about exploiting wild rice on a larger scale as the realization of a biblical and imperial dream of guaranteed abundance: a self-reproducing, prodigious staple impervious to unexpected developments, including “inexplicable” changes in the climate.

On a seasonably cold day in December 1805, Sir Joseph Banks told members of the Horticultural Society of London that he had discovered a proven method for making warmer-climate plants frost resistant. Although he was certain the method could be applied to tropical and other hothouse plants, it was North American wild rice (Zizania aquatica) that provided the inspiration for his lecture, later published as the essay “Some Hints Respecting the Proper Mode of Inuring Tender Plants to Our Climate.”1 The better part of this short text was devoted to describing acclimatization experiments with specimens of Zizania, transplanted from Canada to the pond on his Spring Grove estate outside London and to the fens on his property in Lincolnshire. Banks—one of the naturalists on James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific, president of the Royal Society from 1778 to 1820, and the most powerful scientific patron in the Anglophone world—had been interested in Zizania’s special qualities since the 1770s, believing it to be a highly adaptable plant. From the 1780s through the 1810s, he tried developing a cultivar hardy enough to “endure the ungenial summer of England,” which would, in turn, prepare it for service in cooler, temperate-climate colonies. Inoculated against severe cold, wild rice seeds could be sown in British and Irish bogs to feed the poor and introduced to unimproved lands in New South Wales. Going further, Banks believed that his success with “the experiment on Zizania points out the road” to habituating other nonnative species to the recent sharpening in English weather: “the ungenial springs, the chilly summers, and the rigorous winters, by which, especially for some years past, we have been perpetually visited.” [End Page 127] Wild rice, inured to the hazards of a cooling climate, would be the pioneer plant of a responsive imperial ecology, on the path paved by learned men associated with a variety of British scientific or government institutions.2

Banks’s sustained interest in this North American plant was not merely an eccentric experiment in acclimatization. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, wild rice was the only native North American food plant that was a subject of significant, if subsequently forgotten, investigation in America and Europe.3 Beginning in the late seventeenth century, travelers, fur traders, and colonists occasionally remarked on the variety of watery habitats in which the plant flourished, as well as on Native American practices of reaping and eating it. The plant the English and French called wild rice (riz sauvage) or, just as frequently, wild oats (folle avoine) seemed to grow nearly everywhere: from the seaboard to the entire length of the Mississippi River valley and from the northern Plains to Hudson Bay. From the 1740s through the 1790s, British officials, fur traders, and veterans of the Seven Years’ War such as Arthur Dobbs, Jonathan Carver, and Peter Pond relied for their subsistence on wild rice procured from Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Siouan suppliers while traveling through the Upper Midwest. Drawing on Dutch, French, and Swedish maps or travelers’ accounts as well as their own direct observations, they recorded descriptions of the ways in which Indians used the plant. Their published accounts emphasized its prolific growth in swamps, rivers, and ponds; the ease of harvesting and cooking it; and its resemblance in shape and flavor to domesticated grains such as white rice, oats, maize, and millet. Moreover, all European observers assumed that Zizania “sows itself”—that Indians only harvested but did nothing to control or develop the plant, which reproduced as independently and copiously as a weed. Believing that Zizania thrived “in Abundance spontaneously” throughout temperate North America and required little expertise or labor to grow, gather, and prepare, one Englishman concluded that it “is the most valuable grain that grows spontaneously, perhaps, in the whole world, not even excepting the tropical productions.”4 [End Page 128]

Taking all these factors into account, John Mitchell inserted a long footnote on wild rice into his 1767 treatise, The Present State of Great Britain and North America. Mitchell, the Virginia-born physician and botanist best known for his 1755 map of North America produced for the Board of Trade, was vehemently opposed to the expansion of empire in northern latitudes but nevertheless recommended wild rice as part of a broader strategy for Britain to gain control of its food supply. To increase self-sufficiency at home and in the colonies, Mitchell encouraged a dietary shift from wheat to alternative staples—all “proper crops for the poor and uncultivated lands” in regions unsuitable for sowing wheat. In Britain, providing rye, oats, barley, and buckwheat to the poor and to “Labourers and Workmen” would reserve domestic wheat for export; in Quebec and other northern colonies, wild rice would feed colonists in frontier settlements, reducing their dependence on imported provisions. Once improved for commercial cultivation, wrote Mitchell, wild rice would also provide a unique commodity for the imperial trade, one that would not interfere with the mother country’s own produce. If wild rice were “duely cultivated” like white rice, Britain “might have rice from our northern as well as our southern colonies.”5

A decade later, infestations of the Hessian fly in wheat crops, the Bengal famine, the loss of exports from the United States, destructive hurricanes in the Caribbean, and serious harvest shortfalls in Britain and Ireland combined to give renewed urgency to policies promoting a wider range of starches as substitute foods for cheaply feeding slaves, the British poor, and new or import-dependent colonies.6 It was in this context that a number of people revived Mitchell’s idea of incorporating Zizania into the domestic and imperial economy. Much as Banks had perceived the value of breadfruit “procur’d with no more trouble than that of climbing a tree and pulling it down,” which made Tahitians “exempt from the curse of our forefather,” so too did he, Arthur Young, and other prominent naturalists and agricultural improvers associated with the British Board of Agriculture, [End Page 129] the Horticultural Society of London, the Linnean Society, and the Royal Society become intrigued by proposals for growing wild rice as a low-cost, nearly labor-free, alternative subsistence crop particularly suited to colder regions with limited agricultural potential. Harvest shortfalls and interruptions to trade through the period of the Napoleonic Wars stimulated continued experimentation with wild rice in the hope that it might help diversify and secure the grain supply.7 If the best properties of this wild food could be improved through acclimatization and breeding, it would yield with little effort the multiple benefits of an abundant food supply and the productive transformation of wastelands. In his fitting epigraph to “Natural History of the Wild Rice,” Thomas Holt White, brother of the better-known naturalist Gilbert White, quoted Ecclesiastes 11:1: “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” For White and other naturalists, the potential rewards of this North American grass recalled a biblical parable: one could simply broadcast seeds into unimproved wetlands and return later to find a harvestable foodstuff.8

British naturalists’ interest in exploiting wild rice as an alternative staple was thus an attempt to respond to the political, economic, and environmental contingencies the empire faced in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Following the Seven Years’ War, the unprecedented expansion of colonial territory in northern North America and elsewhere encouraged the investigation of plants such as wild rice as part of the effort to address the scaled-up problem of provisioning through initiatives to promote a more efficient use of natural resources. Banks’s work on wild rice aligned with his much broader goal of achieving what the historian Richard Drayton has called a “nature’s government”: a more effective and productive empire created by manipulating its diverse colonial environments—from tropical islands to boreal forests—through expert knowledge, ecological exchanges, and scientific agriculture.9

What few historians of empire have appreciated, however, are the ways in which this vision was intertwined with debates about the natural history [End Page 130] of climate, including the possibility that climates had been subject to short-and very long-term transformation. Climate was explicitly a factor in broader strategies for managing the British Empire after the late seventeenth century. Officials, surveyors, and other writers had always itemized and described it in official correspondence and popular print media, including colonial settlement schemes, reports to the Royal Society and the Board of Trade, local and natural histories, and gazetteers. After 1763, administrators and their advisers increasingly considered climatic geography in formulating policies. As Mitchell asserted in his work, The Present State of Great Britain, before reforming transatlantic trade regulations “the first thing necessary to be known, and duely considered, is the singular and peculiar climate of North America.” But in this period, natural historians were increasingly alert to what they perceived as acute changes in regional climates, including the supposedly temperate climates of North America and Britain. As a result, for Banks the unique attraction of wild rice was its versatility as a subsistence crop that could be made insensitive to climatic variability, particularly that which he perceived as most worrisome: a cooling planet. Convinced that wild rice could become a grain for all political seasons and untold natural upheavals, British and colonial officials fantasized about its agricultural potential. All they had to do was learn how to grow it themselves.10

Wild rice is a common name for an annual aquatic grass that is indigenous to North America and produces edible, starchy grain-like fruits. Although Zizania’s common name suggests that it is a cousin to white rice (Oryza sativa), the geographic origins and natural history of the two plants are unrelated.11 Writers sometimes called it Indian rice and dubbed entire groups Wild Rice Indians, including the Menominee, whose name is a variation of manoominiig, the Algonquian word meaning “wild rice people.” For the Naudowessie and other groups, wild rice was a key element of ceremonial feasts and sacred rituals. Other observers suggested that Native [End Page 131] Americans were mainly interested in attracting migrating ducks, geese, and bobolinks, also known as ricebirds, to the grasslands. John Bartram believed that Native people had “formerly” eaten wild rice but now left it as fodder for birds and other game. If colonists were uncertain about the function and meaning of wild rice in Native societies, it is because they were more interested in understanding what they believed was the autonomous botanical culture of the plant.12

Colonial travelers in northern regions east of the Rocky Mountains observed several different species of wild rice, including Zizania aquatica (water weed) and the closely related Zizania palustris (marshy weed); south of the Great Lakes, they were more likely to observe Zizania miliacea (millet weed).13 French botanist André Michaux identified Zizania palustris flowering on the Ogeechee River in coastal Georgia in May 1787 and near Monck’s Corner, South Carolina, in July 1788. In the 1830s, Harvard botanist Thomas Nuttall was unsure of whether to identify a flowering native grass growing in the Great Salt River in Arkansas as Zizania aquatica or miliacea.14 However, the majority of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century botanical travelers in North America identified wild rice plants as Zizania aquatica, which the renowned Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus first listed in his Species Plantarum, published in 1753. Although in 1745 the Swedish Academy of Science asked Linnaeus’s disciple Pehr Kalm to retrieve a “kind of Rice” [End Page 132] during his tour through North America, as early as 1740 Linnaeus had already received specimens of wild rice through a chain of transatlantic and European transfers. In the 1730s and 1740s, Virginia botanist John Clayton collected and cataloged a number of American plants, including wild rice, and shipped them to the naturalist Mark Catesby in London. Catesby forwarded these materials to Dutch botanist Johan Frederik Gronovius in Leiden, who in turn forwarded them to Linnaeus in Uppsala, where he named Clayton’s dry specimen Zizania aquatica.15

Its species names aquatica and palustris signaled that travelers always found it growing in wetlands ranging from fresh or brackish marshes, swamps, and bogs to streams, shallow rivers, ponds, or lakeshores. The earliest published accounts of the plant’s habit and habitat were those of Jesuit missionaries in New France, such as Jacques Marquette’s 1681 description of “a kind of grass that grows naturally in the bottom of the mud in small rivers and in marshy places.” When Kalm referred to it by its botanical name, he translated the Latin as “the water tare grass.” As its genus and common names suggest, Europeans believed that it was wild and grew as vigorously as a weed.16 Most British descriptions of wild rice followed Joseph-François Laftau’s description of the plant’s culture in his Moeurs des sauvages ameriquains (1724), which reinforced the idea of self-reproduction: wild oats grew “without requiring” Indians “to plow or sow it.”17 British officer Robert Rogers explained that the Nipissings near [End Page 133] the Saint Lawrence River valley ate only “what the lake and wild desarts afford them,” including “a kind of wild maize or rice,” which he thought they “never pretend to plant or improve.” John Mervin Nooth, a British naturalist in Quebec, seemed delighted by the fact that Indians’ “rude kind of Harvesting” allowed a considerable quantity of grain to fall into the water, which waterfowl proceeded to eat—a desirable result, but one that he assumed was wholly unintentional.18

As was typical of both chauvinistic and romantic ideas about Native American ecological knowledge, colonial accounts produced an image of instinctive foraging rather than of agricultural technique. For Europeans, wild rice represented the absolute distinction they perceived between hunting and gathering versus agricultural societies, an idea evoked in many of their common names for it. The interchangeability between wild foods and primitive people was especially clear in the term riz sauvage, which could carry several connotations including uncultivated rice or the savage’s rice.19 European observers were correct that Zizania was a wild plant, but modern ethnobotanists argue that it is more accurate to understand the differences between Indian and European horticulture in terms of a “spectrum of increasing intervention” in the natural world, rather than a rigid division between two entirely distinct practices. From this perspective, while Indians did not subject the plant to thorough domestication, they intensively cultivated particular stands to ensure that they would regularly produce grain. Moreover, intensive cultivation seems to have been peculiar to northern nations who treated wild rice as a staple for their own subsistence as well as for colonial trade. In northern regions where stands were the most widespread and abundant, there is some limited archaeological evidence suggesting that Indians might have sown seeds.20

Europeans implicitly recognized the geography if not the methods of Native wild rice horticulture. While varieties of Zizania grew throughout eastern North America, the majority of accounts after the mid-eighteenth century focused on northern territories. Since most descriptions of the [End Page 134] plant were embedded in narratives intended to promote the extension of fur trade and colonial settlement, territories judged by travelers to be exceptionally rich in wild rice acquired evocative place names and were labeled as such on maps. In northern Minnesota, where “the swamps are full of wild rice and cranberries,” the fur trader John Long noted that Lake Schabeechevan was also known as “the Weed Lake.” Another fur trader, Peter Pond, noted that in Green Bay “the Bottom of the Bay Produces a Large Quantity of Wilde Rice.” In July 1750, Kalm spotted stands of wild rice “in the mud, and in the most rapid parts of brooks” on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and near the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River. Jonathan Carver, a Massachusetts veteran of the Seven Years’ War hired by Robert Rogers in 1766 to find a river route west from the Mississippi to the Pacific, claimed that in late September at Lake Winnebago “in some places it is with difficulty that canoes can pass, through the obstructions they meet with from the rice stalks, which are very large and thick, and grow here in great abundance.” Through the turn of the century, colonists who traveled through “watered lands” from Fort Lac la Pluie (in present-day northern Minnesota) to Quebec from summer through early fall enthused about the bounty of this “luxuriant grass” growing in “swamp, or overflowed country.”21

They also emphasized the fact that frigid winters and a short growing season did not seem to prevent the plant from sprouting or growing to maturity. Arthur Dobbs, a member of the Irish Parliament, investor in efforts during the 1740s to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific, and governor of North Carolina, was impressed that “a Kind of wild Oats, from which the Natives get plentiful Crops” grew not only on the shores of Lake Huron—a region possessing “one of the best climates in the world”—but also in the more northern latitudes around Hudson Bay. Conversely, wild rice provided evidence of the fertility and temperateness of northern regions. Lake Winnipeg, for example, though surrounded by “barren” mountains and plains, was also the site of “an amazing quantity of rice, which proves,” Carver wrote, “that grain will flourish in these northern climates as well as in warmer.” Alexander Henry, a New Jersey man who became a fur trader based in Montreal after the Seven Years’ War and founder of the North West Company, marveled at the “beauty of [End Page 135]

Figure I. Map of the Mississippi River valley. Note the illustration of Europeans and Indians in a canoe passing through a riverbed overgrown with wild rice and, in the upper left-hand corner, an area labeled “Folle Avoine or Dwase Haver” (wild oats in French and Dutch). Land en Volk-ontdekking in’t Noorder gedeelte van America, door P. Marquette en Joliet; gedaan in’t Jaar 1673. Naaukeurige versameling, Leiden, 1707. <br/><br/>Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
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Figure I.

Map of the Mississippi River valley. Note the illustration of Europeans and Indians in a canoe passing through a riverbed overgrown with wild rice and, in the upper left-hand corner, an area labeled “Folle Avoine or Dwase Haver” (wild oats in French and Dutch). Land en Volk-ontdekking in’t Noorder gedeelte van America, door P. Marquette en Joliet; gedaan in’t Jaar 1673. Naaukeurige versameling, Leiden, 1707.

Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

[End Page 136]

the scene” of wild rice growing in northern Minnesota in the summer of 1775, which recommended the area’s “fitness for agricultural settlements” in the future.22 Traders watched Indian men and women harvesting, processing, and preserving wild rice “at the time of maturity,” which varied somewhat by region and seasonal conditions but usually occurred in late summer or early fall. According to Kalm, on the border between New York and Quebec, Zizania that was “in full bloom” in July was harvested in October.23 Carver offered the most detailed, if still generic, description of indigenous techniques for threshing wild rice:

Nearly about the time that it begins to turn to a milky state and to ripen, they run their canoes into the midst of it, and tying bunches of it together, just below the ears, with bark, leave it in this situation three or four weeks longer, till it is perfectly ripe. About the latter end of September they return to the river, when each family having its separate allotment, and being able to distinguish their own property by the manner of fattening the sheaves, gather in the portion that belongs to them. This they do by placing their canoes close to the bunches of rice, in such a position as to receive the grain when it falls, and then beat it out with pieces of wood formed for that purpose.

Catching grain in a canoe while gliding past ripe plants seemed effortless compared with the backbreaking toil required in harvesting other cereals. Winnowing wild rice also appeared to be quick work. Green rice was parched by heating it with smoke, in a skillet, or by laying it out on blankets in the sun. Once it was dry, it was gently rubbed between hands or feet to remove the husk. Stored in barrels or sacks made from buffalo or deerskin and sometimes buried underground, wild rice could be preserved for several months or even years without spoiling.24

Henry reported that he bartered with Chippewa women for more than 120 bags of rice “nearly a bushel measure each” in July 1775, which suggests that this was stored rice from the previous season’s harvest. François-Alexandre-Frédéric, duke de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, who traveled through northeastern North America from 1795 to 1797, reported that Indians brought “four to five hundred pounds of this rice,” grown [End Page 137] in upstate New York, to market in Kingston, Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), each September. In addition to supplies kept in reserve, such high yields likely reflect, at least to some extent, the temptation for European men with commercial interests in these territories to exaggerate quantities. Whether or not fertile flowering and ample harvests were the norm in the second half of the eighteenth century, colonists’ published reports were intended to convey this impression. Whatever the precise quantities of annual harvests, Henry asserted that his company depended on these provisions because traveling by foot, canoe, and portage over long distances through the Upper Midwest required a steady supply of enormous quantities of wild rice.25

Beyond merely satisfying their immediate needs, colonial travelers who tasted wild rice often judged it to be “a good food.” Though Carver remarked with some disbelief that “many of the Indian nations neither make use of bread, salt, or spices,” he knew that boiled wild rice was a nutritious replacement for bread as a dietary staple. Like other writers, he introduced his readers to wild rice through analogies to Old World cereals or to New World crops such as maize that had already become familiar to colonial and European palates. John Mitchell wrote that wild rice had “a sweetness in it like Indian Corn.” Wild rice grasslands resembled fields of wheat and newly harvested grain looked like unpolished white rice. All of the common names employed in European sources—wild rice, Canada rice, water oats, riso selvatico (wild rice), folle avoine, and Avena fatua (the latter two both meaning “wild oats”)—were another way of assimilating this lesser-known food plant into the European culinary imagination as a variation on standard fare. Kalm referred to wild rice as one of the Mohawks’ “dainty dishes,” prepared like “groats, which taste almost as good as rice.” Liancourt wrote that “this rice is of a smaller and darker grain than that, which comes from Carolina, Egypt, & c. but grows as white in the water, is of as good a flavour, and affords full as good nourishment, as the latter.” In addition, because Zizania was “fit for the food of man and beast,” it provided rich fodder for wildlife that enhanced the flavor of meat. “The sweetness and nutritious quality of it attract an infinite number of wild fowl of every kind, which flock from distant climes, to enjoy this rare repast; and by it become inexpressibly fat and delicious,” raved Carver. Wild rice was like a frontier fast food: “an immediate [End Page 138] resource for necessary food” on which colonists could instantly rely until “other supplies may be produced,” especially since, even in regions where “the climate is temperate and the soil good, the first settlers are often exposed to great hardships.”26

Mitchell argued that wild rice not only approximated but excelled white rice, oats, “and all other sorts of grain that are known, in many remarkable properties” because it “neither requires reaping, threshing, cleaning, grinding, bolting, nor baking; the grain is easily gathered with the hand, and is fit to eat, boiled like rice, as soon as it is gathered; it neither adheres to the husk, like rice, barley and oats, nor has it any bran like wheat, which create a great expense in these sorts of grain.” Particularly since he believed that wheat would not grow “any where to the north ward of Boston,” he singled out wild rice as “the only sort of Corn proper for the northern parts of America.” Therefore, notwithstanding his skepticism about the agricultural potential of the northern colonies in general, he thought Zizania might be exploited on a larger scale as a novel, undemanding, cold-climate staple. Since the ancestors of all “the best” domesticated cereals were wild grasses, he reasoned that Zizania might also be easily “improved by culture.” People with interests in colonizing the northern trans-Mississippi West after the American Revolution further publicized these endorsements of wild rice, emphasizing the ways in which it could become a surrogate for other subsistence grains in times of shortage or harvest failure in Europe or a staple food to feed marginal populations in any place or time.27

Such advocates were responding to parliamentary debates about regulating the Atlantic provisions trade after 1783, discussions that turned in part on competing perceptions of the climate in Britain’s remaining northern colonies. In his influential Observations on the Commerce of the American States, Lord Sheffield—allied with Arthur Young and Joseph Banks in the mission to promote imperial self-sufficiency through corn [End Page 139] laws, enclosures, and improvement schemes—urged Britons not to “exaggerat[e] the loss” of the Thirteen Colonies. Sheffield argued that Canada could effectively replace New England and the Middle Colonies as a supplier of grain. In response, West Indian advocates of free trade such as the Jamaican planter Edward Long—perhaps guided by Mitchell’s deeply pessimistic and widely reprinted account of the northern climate—ridiculed the notion that “shriveled barley, oats and rye” produced under the “transient gleam of sunshine” of northern summers could be “excellent substitutes for the flour of New York and the rice of Carolina.” In later pamphlets, although Sheffield’s optimism about the northern colonies had faded, he and other improvers associated with the Board of Agriculture and local improvement societies continued to pursue a broad agenda of domestic and colonial self-sufficiency through incentives to diversify food production on marginal lands.28

Caribbean planters’ attempts to introduce Tahitian breadfruit as a new slave provision was only the most sensationalized response to this remedial food and agricultural policy. In Britain and Ireland, potatoes provided another answer. Easy to propagate, potatoes became an important new food for the growing population of rural poor displaced by enclosures as well as a supplemental winter fodder for horses, sheep, poultry, hogs, and cattle. By the mid-eighteenth century, the potato had so quickly become a common crop that ordinary farmers were breeding novel varieties such as the red-fleshed cluster potato, which, despite its “repulsive” appearance, won the Society of Arts gold medal in 1772 and, in the 1790s, the approbation of the British Board of Agriculture for its dense flesh and prolific nature. Because of these specific advantages, in years of dearth, the Quebec Agricultural Society encouraged local farmers to plant potatoes on croplands instead of exclusively in their kitchen gardens, with the principal objective of preventing scarcity. In 1789, the year the society was established, farmers sowed more potatoes than usual because it was “a year of bad crops.”29 Along similar lines, Banks was interested in grains that ripened [End Page 140] quickly, such as Indian “Hill Wheat,” a South Asian variety that was planted in the spring and harvested in late summer or early fall. In another early essay for the Horticultural Society, Banks noted the parallel histories and virtues of potatoes—successfully transplanted from South America to Europe—and Indian hill wheat, which he also grew in his experimental garden. As northern counterparts to breadfruit in tropical plantations, hill wheat and potatoes could supplement or replace other starches as “very satisfying” foods “proper for hard-working people.”30

Improvers familiar with wild rice culture believed it could be even more promising than potatoes for addressing the problems of food supply. Among wild rice’s advantages was that it grew in rivers, ponds, and waterlogged areas. Because it “never” grew “on dry land,” it required the maintenance—rather than the drainage—of wetlands. Native Americans had proven that Zizania was a nutritious plant, so Europeans elevated it above other wild plants and, even more unusually, commended its tendency to proliferate in swamps, bogs, and marshes. It is remarkable that improvers considered this characteristic as an asset: their curiosity about this aquatic plant represents one of few exceptions to a general intolerance of wetlands. Early modern agricultural treatises usually denigrated such areas as noxious wastes unless improved for cultivation through labor-intensive drainage or the construction and management of irrigation ditches, as was the case with cultivated Oryza. While nearly all agricultural advice since the seventeenth century had exhorted landowners to increase the productivity and value of their properties by reclaiming swamps, marshy ponds, and flood-prone fields for irrigated cultivation, scientific discussions about the feasibility of improving wild rice encouraged just the opposite. Thomas Holt White suggested that in cultivating wild rice the British could heed the example of Chinese farmers who, “instead of laying their fens and swamps dry, convert them to utility by raising in them esculent aquatics.” With little to no intervention, wild rice would enhance the value of otherwise unproductive bodies of water.31 In the 1786 issue of his periodical Annals of Agriculture, [End Page 141] Young excerpted Mitchell’s footnote on wild rice next to two letters describing experiments with wild rice acclimatization written by Alexander Baxter, an English partner of the North West Company and an active member of his local agricultural society in Hampshire. Baxter sent seeds to Young and Banks, asking them to perform “an intelligent trial” to ascertain “if they may vegetate in this climate.” Young not only endorsed Zizania as “an object that certainly demands attention” but also promised to “distribut[e] some to many skilful and patriotic cultivators.”32

White’s February 1789 article in the Gentleman’s Magazine was inspired by Carver’s account, particularly Carver’s suggestion that, “in future periods,” wild rice could “be of great service to the infant colonies, as it will afford them a present support, until in the course of cultivation other supplies may be produced.” White encouraged English farmers to “Culture” Zizania—that is, to create an “enlarge[d]” variety with a hypertrophied fruit like all other domesticated grains “we have at present in common use.” Once domesticated, wild rice seed could be exported across the empire to be planted as “a substitute for rice in our lately-attempted settlement in the Southern hemisphere, where the climate may be too cold for that grain.” There “it should seem to be a very desirable acquisition, and well worth introduction, to sow in the morasses and stagnated waters that always abound in uninhabited countries, and which require a greater number of hands and more labour to drain, than new establishments can afford.”33

In his own article on Zizania in the 1792 issue of Annals, Young reported that since 1786 he had been distributing Baxter’s seeds to “various societies in several parts of Europe,” including Bohemia, Germany, and several Italian cities. He also noted that Anthony Songa, a fellow of the Royal Society, had translated Carver’s travelogue into Italian. Liancourt, who dedicated the 1799 English translation of his published travel journals to his friend Young, agreed that wild rice could also be “very useful in Europe,” particularly “for the subsistence of the poor.”34 [End Page 142] Finally, in 1803, Aylmer Bourke Lambert, vice president of the Linnean Society in London, cited Carver and Kalm when he told members that Zizania “might be sown with some advantage where no other grain will grow, in many shallow pieces of water in Great Britain and Ireland, especially in the latter country, where I have seen several extensive lakes which appear well suited for the purpose.”35

In order to acclimatize and domesticate wild rice for feeding the hungry masses or for delivery to Ireland and the antipodes, improvers first had to understand how to reliably export it to Britain. Most Zizania seeds sent from North America did not survive the transatlantic journey. Lambert reported that “the seed of Zizania aquatica in a vegetating state from America was long a desideratum among the botanists of this country; for although seeds were received here at different times, yet none of them grew.”36 Among the first problems encountered were whether to send entire stalks of the plant or only its seed and, in either case, how it should be packaged for shipment. Once it was ascertained that Zizania was not a perennial plant, as Young first assumed, some decided that the seeds, like those of most annuals, should be stored dry to remain viable during dormancy. Baxter worried that his experiments with Zizania failed because the dried seeds he imported were “very much broke in the carriage”; nevertheless, he “directed those to whom I have entrusted any for a trial, to part them on a table, but at the same time to sow equally the broken ones.”37

Trying a different method, White initially asked his supplier in Quebec City for entire stalks, thinking it would be “much more likely to retain its vegetative faculty” in this form. His correspondent was probably Nooth, an Edinburgh-trained physician and fellow of the Royal Society, who came to British North America in 1779 to serve as superintendent general of the British and Foreign Hospitals during the Revolutionary War. From 1788 to 1799 he headed the Royal Hospital in Quebec. As one of the founding directors of the Agricultural Society, established in 1789, Nooth was broadly interested in the improvement or commercialization of regional natural resources such as maple sugar trees and potash. He hosted Liancourt and Michaux when they passed through Quebec. His regular correspondence with Banks included discussions about and [End Page 143] shipments of wild rice.38 Banks, Baxter, Nooth, and White considered a number of methods for transporting Zizania seeds: drying them “without smoke” in anticipation that they would sprout during shipment; stuffing “well-dried” bottles “with the ripe ears, cork[ing] them tight, and dip[ping] the noses in melted wax”; and filling bottles with unprocessed wild rice seeds floating in water, wet moss, or “the mud of the River where they grow.” The wet method proved to be necessary but insufficient for ensuring seed viability. As Nooth eventually realized that they required not only a moist but also a cold medium like the frozen waters in which they naturally wintered, he began sending Banks Zizania seeds drenched in cold water or sphagnum moss packed in sealed jars.39

The next and more perplexing challenge was how to re-create the proper growing environment. Baxter sowed Zizania in a variety of wet conditions, “in pots in a pond or tank; some in hot beds, &c. &c. and some in water only, within the house,” and placed the seeds, covered “with a fine mould,” in a pot of water, which was itself set inside a tank in his garden. He thought this last setup was “the most favourable situation” because it replicated an experimental plot that had “succeeded to a wonder in a pond in the neighbourhood of Paris.” These plants—which may have been Michaux’s—were “unluckily destroyed,” but only as a result of “a gardener’s cleaning out the pond who happened to know nothing of the matter.” Baxter had no such excuse. He was simply “sorry to say” that his seeds had not sprouted, “nor do I now expect them.”40 From 1786 to 1792, Young also attempted to grow Baxter’s Zizania seeds, “but none vegetated.” He was heartened to report, however, that the seeds he sent to a Bohemian estate, which were planted eight to ten seeds to a square foot, had grown so well that his correspondent requested one hundred pounds of additional seed.41 [End Page 144]

Banks planted wild rice in the open air in his Lincolnshire fens and at Spring Grove, where, adjacent to the main house, he dug an artificial pond into which household wastewater was discharged through lead pipes. Following several unsuccessful attempts to grow wild rice during the 1780s, in 1790 he obtained from Nooth seeds sealed in jars of cold water that germinated and took root in Spring Grove. In 1791 these seeds “produced strong plants,” but the succeeding plants “were weak, slender, not half so tall as those of the first generation, and grew in the shallowest water only.” By the third year, however, and without further intervention or addition of new seeds, Banks found plants that were “sensibly stronger than their parents,” and “in this manner the plants proceeded, springing up every year from the seeds of the preceding one, every year becoming visibly stronger and larger, and rising from deeper parts of the pond.” By 1804, after fourteen generations of self-seeding, the entire pond was covered with six-foot-tall stalks standing “as thick as wheat grows on a well managed field.”42

Banks’s simile implies that, like other British improvers, he thought that wild rice could be roughly interchangeable with wheat. By making this imported grain “as vigorous as our indigenous plants are, and as perfect in all its parts as in its native climate,” he was producing reliable seed stock for other growers. In this sense, his experiment with Zizania was typical of acclimatization as it had been practiced—sometimes with less deliberation or theoretical motivation—since the beginning of European colonization. In the eighteenth century, informed by Linnaeus’s attempts to assemble a universal garden and menagerie in Sweden, natural historians became more alert to the idiosyncrasies and limitations of local environments. Successfully transplanting a species required understanding the commensurability between its native and adopted climate. Descriptions and measurements of regional seasonal shifts and air temperatures, including those of American climates, proliferated in the early modern period in published natural histories, geographic surveys, travelogues, and chorographies. After the late seventeenth century, these observations often appeared at the beginning of such texts, following a template made explicit in founding member of the Royal Society Robert Boyle’s instructions to gentlemen, seamen, and other travelers for recording “the natural history of a country great or small.”43 [End Page 145]

But despite this accumulating information, knowledge about regional climates remained equivocal. In practice, eighteenth-century naturalists’ methodology for understanding climate was more limited and subjective than their empirical study of other aspects of the physical world. While naturalists collected, contained, preserved, and transported samples of water, minerals, soils, mosses, mushrooms, plants, insects, fish, birds, and other creatures in order to observe and compare them with other specimens, they could not so easily isolate, objectify, and circulate weather or climate. Instead, they relied on three indirect approaches to studying the natural history of climate. First, they referred to the ancient model of polar, temperate, and tropical zones based on latitude to predict conditions in distant locations, despite the fact that this turned out to be a faulty guide to regional American climates. Second, naturalists developed a range of qualitative and quantitative proxies: descriptive reports of climate, weather diaries, and instrumental measurements of air temperature, pressure, humidity, and wind speed using thermometers, barometers, and other devices of varying reliability. Finally, they extrapolated climatic conditions from observations of transoceanic ecological exchanges—the success or failure of immigrant people, animals, and plants in adapting to new environments. The ongoing process of biogeographical shuffling enabled by empire offered clues to understanding the relative healthfulness and other characteristics of local climates. This seasoning of people and other species thus served not only to naturalize settler populations and diversify imperial trade and domestic agriculture with introduced plants such as Zizania but also to provide a method of comparing the climatic conditions of various habitats.44

For Banks, this third mode of thinking about local climates—their capacity to sustain traffic in living plants and animals—was paramount to improving nature for empire. Likewise, the Horticultural Society’s primary institutional mission was to learn how best “to produce the necessary changes in the constitution and habit of plants” imported from abroad, which would augment animal acclimatization and breeding societies already “established, with success, in almost every district of the British Empire.” Banks reinforced this objective in the opening lines of “Some Hints Respecting the Proper Mode of Inuring Tender Plants to Our Climate,” where he wrote that nothing was “more interesting to the public, or more likely to prove advantageous” than the transportation and naturalization of species outside their home range.45 [End Page 146]

Most scholars have reasonably assumed that Banks believed in an unchanging climate. The stable geography of cold, temperate, and hot climes provided a natural order for the imperial economy—wool produced in Britain, timber in New England, sugar in the West Indies—and acclimatization served as a principal technique for enhancing it. His impressions of Tahiti reflected this concept of climatic geography: compared to the ease of cultivating breadfruit in the tropics, he wrote in 1769, “we natives of less temperate climates” toil “in the cold of winter to sew and in the heat of summer to reap the annual produce of our soil, which when once gatherd into the barn must be again resowd and re-reapd as often as the Colds of winter or the heats of Summer return to make such labour disagreable.” These remarks formed the basis for his role during the 1790s in orchestrating the transplantation of breadfruit to the West Indies.46

While Banks was thoroughly committed to improving and moving species across the empire, he seldom extended this interventionist approach to climate, as did many of his contemporaries. Prominent figures in eighteenth-century North America, the Scottish Highlands, Ireland, West Africa, and elsewhere thought that conditions in peripheries had recently changed for better or worse, in most cases becoming milder and less humid: the air was warmer in northern regions, cooler in the tropics, and drier everywhere that had been subject to forest clearance and land improvement. Banks knew about these theories not only from the published work of such well-known writers as David Hume and Thomas Jefferson but also from private correspondents who wrote to him about climate amelioration in their localities. For example, Samuel Williams, the former Harvard professor of natural philosophy and math, announced to Banks in 1789 that he was “convinced that the heat of the earth has been gradually increasing” based on his observations of a “very rapid alteration” following a century of colonization in New England. A few years later, Nooth attributed the turn to milder weather in Quebec, documented in his journal of daily thermometer readings as well as anecdotal information from “the oldest inhabitants,” to another cause: volcanic activity in the northeastern region of the [End Page 147] province. Other colonial naturalists were skeptical about the possibility of improving the northern North American climate, “which is much worse,” wrote Mitchell, “than is generally apprehended.” There were those, such as Mitchell and Edward Long, who altogether rejected climatic improvement, believing “there is nothing to be done against nature.” Others, such as Noah Webster, attributed the “more inconstant” winter weather during the late eighteenth century to mere variability rather than to permanent change. Despite the currency of discussions about climate change in this period and Banks’s proximity to them, he remained mostly silent on the topic.47

Banks’s experiment on wild rice offers the earliest glimpse of his considerable interest in understanding and responding to the climatic instability that he perceived throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In 1789, White had questioned “whether the summer would be warm or long enough in the Northern part of Europe to bring this sort of corn to perfection,” but Banks had managed to do it. However, in his breathless 1805 lecture, Banks was not only boasting about a gardening victory. He was also airing his concern about recent changes in England’s climate. White thought it “doubtful” that wild rice would ripen in England during the summers, which were normally cooler than North American summers. But as Banks explained to his colleagues in the Horticultural Society, he intended to naturalize wild rice in England in order to make it frost hardy enough to withstand what seemed to him to be the country’s unseasonably cold temperatures in recent years. Zizania acclimatization suggested a program for toughening other “natives of warmer climates” so they could be planted directly in the soil and grown in the open air in places that might increasingly be subject to [End Page 148] wet and cold summers. Buoyed by his success with a foreign plant that was initially “scarce able to endure the ungenial summer of England,” Banks wanted to continue to test “the theory” he had “brought forward” by applying his cold-hardening methods to other “tender plants” that might be grown in Britain, Ireland, Canada, and southern Australia.48

Banks could not have known that he was living during the end of the era of global cooling that modern climatologists have dubbed the Little Ice Age, let alone the geographic and temporal scope or depth of its temperature and weather variations. Rather, Banks combined his experience with an eclectic range of contemporary scientific explanations for climatic instability. As Royal Society president, Banks promoted and was familiar with the latest work in geology. He tacitly accepted historical explanations of the fossils of extinct creatures found in Siberia and other far northern regions that seemed to correspond to living species in the tropics, the most prominent of which was the argument of French naturalist George-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, for global cooling. In this period, naturalists had begun to piece together geological evidence suggesting that continents, oceans, and climates had undergone profound physical changes over the course of millennia, on a much larger timescale than the biblical account allowed. Since the seventeenth century, a premise for secular historical accounts of long-term climate change had been that the earth was originally very hot, like the sun, and had gradually cooled. At the same time, others insisted that deforestation and agricultural improvement had warmed cold climates in the Northern Hemisphere from the Scottish Highlands to the North American seaboard colonies. In the mid-eighteenth century, Buffon offered a compelling synthesis: in the deep past, global cooling began in the North Pole and proceeded southward, a process of displacement that forced the migration and dispersal of plants and animals through the relatively warmer latitudes in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In the eighteenth century, glaciers were continuing to encroach on the habitable climates. Buffon believed that agricultural improvement could stall, perhaps even for millennia, but not prevent the inexorable process of cooling that would eventually engulf the whole earth.49

Banks was also alert to the environmental implications of new work on the physics of heat and cold developed by Scottish chemist John [End Page 149] Leslie, with whom he communicated in April 1805 after the publication of Leslie’s An Experimental Inquiry into the Nature and Propagation of Heat (1804), in which he explained why he was “opposed to the favourite hypothesis of the celebrated Buffon.” In Leslie’s “opinion... the earth is growing continually warmer,” or at least it was “unquestionable, that the climate, over the whole of Europe, has assumed a milder character.” Europe’s warming climate was largely the result of the “extremely slow” melting of glaciers in the Swiss Alps, where he had recently done field-work, as well as in the Arctic. “Human industry” might reduce seasonal extremes, but it had “no influence whatever in altering the average of temperature.” Banks never explicitly endorsed Leslie’s explanation for climate warming, but he wrote to Leslie to congratulate him on this work.50

Through the next decade, Banks maintained that the precise causal relationship between the global climate’s past and its present condition was “inexplicable to us at present.” If Banks remained agnostic, the prevalence of such discussions, together with Banks’s own sense that England’s climate had become “perpetually” colder after the turn of the century, might explain two otherwise baffling lines in his essay on wild rice. First, he alluded to a theory of species migration in the distant past when he explained that his method for hardening Zizania reinforced that there was “some reason to believe, that every” tropical or temperate plant acclimatized in Britain was actually “originally the native of a cold climate, though introduced to us through the medium of a warm one.” Second, since the essay hinged on his classification of wild rice—a plant that grew in northern North America—as a “tender” plant from a warmer locale than England, it is possible that he accepted speculations that the American climate had become warmer. His success with wild rice, the fact that his plants lived through what he called London’s “ungenial” weather, suggested that acclimatization could also be used to manipulate a plant’s latent resilience to climatic variability. Whether warming in the colonies or the intensifying “cold and unsteady climate of Britain” was an indication of variability or permanent change, what mattered most immediately to Banks and his Horticultural Society colleagues was to prepare for its possible continuation. Banks urged naturalists to follow his example for producing hardy plants that could reliably weather such changes as far away as the frost-prone southern coast of Tasmania.51 [End Page 150]

His attention to climatic instability, which surfaced in “Some Hints,” continued through the next decade, peaking in 1817 after the so-called year without a summer. Banks and Leslie were both intrigued by the whaling captain William Scoresby’s published reports in 1816 of rising sea temperatures and levels and the exceptionally large hunks of ice floating off Greenland’s western coast. Scoresby began corresponding with Banks in 1810, and in 1817 Banks wrote to him that the “decrease of the Polar Ice” in the Arctic—in addition to recent newspaper reports about exceptional flooding in the Alps—had important implications for understanding climate change. Employing language strongly reminiscent of his remarks about the British climate in the paper on Zizania a decade earlier, Banks explained that Scoresby’s observations had provided an alternative explanation for “the Frosty Springs & Chilly Summers we have been Subject to for many years Past, so much so that it is now 16 or 17 years Since we have had a full Crop of apples for Cyder.” Now Banks believed that the cooler seasons had been a temporary side effect of melting glaciers: “if” cool weather had been “Caused by the increase of Ice which seems to have accumulated for Many years past,” then it would “seem to Prove a diminuition of Cold in the upper Regions of the air.” The fact that “the Atlantic has been unusually clogged with Islands of Ice” seemed to invalidate Buffon’s theory of glaciation and, Banks cautiously hoped, to confirm Leslie’s theory about the relationship between glacial retreat and climate warming. As he wrote to the Horticultural Society’s president a few days later, recounting the poor apple harvests of the past sixteen years: “Possibly, I am too sanguine, but as I have always attributed the increasing Coldness of our Climate to the increase of Polar Ice, I feel a hope that we shall be indulged with better Springs than have lately been provided for us.”52

Banks immediately grasped the broader implications of a sustained warming trend—“a matter in my judgement of Great importance to the Prosperity of this Countrey.” Melting glaciers signaled that Britain should rush to claim possession of circumpolar territories. In November 1817, Banks recommended that the Admiralty take action by ordering new surveys of the Arctic. There was now “ample proof,” he wrote to Robert Saunders Dundas, First Lord of the Admiralty, “that new sources of warmth have been opened, and give us leave to hope that the Arctic seas may at this time be more accessible than they have been for centuries past.” Climate change, he urged Dundas to consider, was “not only interesting to the advancement of science, but also to the future intercourse of mankind and the commerce of distant nations.”53 [End Page 151]

While Banks acted quickly on his prediction that climate warming would stimulate another imperial scramble for a Northwest Passage, it is unknown whether his new optimism about climate warming diminished his interest in wild rice. Through 1819, he maintained a patch of wild rice at Spring Grove, where he had appointed a head gardener experienced in cold climate horticulture (the man had managed imperial gardens in Russia). But the plants in Lincolnshire, which he had hoped to use for popularizing wild rice “as a food for the poor,” had died out when he decided to drain the fens. After his death in 1820, these experiments “passed out of mind” until botanists at Kew in the late nineteenth century imported new seed stock from Canada and reprised Banks and Lambert’s idea of acclimatizing the plant to Britain and Ireland. Despite Banks’s confident outlook when he published “Some Hints,” he was unable to develop a reliable cultivar and test his vision for establishing wild rice plantations across the cooler temperate climates of the empire.54

The only Zizania seed that Banks distributed went to the United States. In late 1807 William Dandridge Peck, Harvard’s newly appointed first Massachusetts Professor of Natural History, returned from a tour of British and European gardens with a sealed metal canister stuffed with wild rice seeds lodged in wet sphagnum moss, a gift from Banks. When Peck visited Spring Grove to view Banks’s horticultural experiments and gather ideas for designing Harvard’s garden, he was particularly excited to see native North American plants, including wild rice, cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), and American golden heather (Hudsonia ericoides), growing in the pond. Peck had encountered Zizania seeds earlier at an 1804 American Academy of Arts and Sciences meeting in Boston, where the society’s librarian, John Lathrop, presented wild rice seeds sent [End Page 152] “from Canada.” But it was Banks’s interest in acclimatizing this “elegant grass” that made Peck “desir[e] to have it at Cambridge,” believing that the famous botanist’s improved variety was superior and “much more easily” grown in New England than if he attempted to get the seeds from Canada. When Peck returned to Cambridge, however, he had nowhere to plant Banks’s Zizania seeds, so he sent them to David Hosack, director of the Elgin Botanic Garden in Manhattan, which had been established in 1801. Peck advised Hosack to hire a “tinman” to unsolder one end of the canister and then “throw these seeds into your pond or another in your vicinity that is easily accessible, when there will be about a foot of water over them. If they vegetate I may at some future day beg a few from you. If you do not already possess this plant it may be a gratification to you to have it, & perhaps it may at some time or after prove useful.”55

Although Hosack’s second edition of the Elgin Botanic Garden catalog (compiled in 1810) lists Zizania aquatica and identifies its “natural country” as North America, the origin of the seeds used in the garden is unknown. In his introduction to the catalog, Hosack offered extensive, individual acknowledgments to countrymen and foreigners for donations of seeds and plant stock, but he did not name Peck or Banks.56 It is also unclear whether or not wild rice grew in the Harvard Botanic Garden. In 1809, workers began planting a nine-acre plot about a mile from the college, including a small, marshy pond “for the reception of bog plants” such as wild rice “which require a moist & boggy soil.”57 Peck’s 1818 catalog of the garden listed more than one thousand plants, among which exotics from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and Asia outnumbered indigenous American species. Peck explained that this imbalance arose because the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture, the garden’s main sponsor, did not provide funding for a local plant collector until 1817 and because the garden relied on the donations of European patrons and wealthy neighbors with elaborate greenhouses for nurturing tropical species. However, neither of these reasons explains why Zizania aquatica was not listed in the catalog.58 [End Page 153]

The short story of ZiZania’s transatlantic career and abortive attempts to naturalize it abroad contrasts sharply with the global commodity histories of domesticated plants such as potatoes, corn, wheat, and white rice. Colonial botanists, farmers, servants, and slaves in the Americas went to great lengths to learn how to transform these foods into staples or cash crops through the processes of long-distance transfer, acclimatization to nonnative environments, and extensive cultivation for domestic or colonial consumption, including as crucial provisions for plantation colonies. Improvers believed that Zizania, although it was an undomesticated plant, could be subjected to much the same processes because it had succeeded in colonizing so many North American environments, seemingly on its own. So why did they abandon this project?

Part of the answer lies in the broader landscape of Joseph Banks’s priorities in and influence over the practice and sponsorship of agricultural improvement during his tenure as president of the Royal Society from 1778 to 1820. All the individuals involved in developing wild rice into an economically significant plant were connected to Banks. Alexander Henry corresponded with him about the utility of wild rice in 1781; Henry, Jonathan Carver, and John Long all dedicated their narratives of travel in the Great Lakes region to Banks.59

Historians of early American and British imperial science have rarely discussed Banks’s relationships with North Americans interested in natural history, although this neglect stems in part from the coincidence that his tenure at the Royal Society began during the American Revolutionary War. But consequently, two significant features of Atlantic history at the turn of the eighteenth century have been obscured: scientific networks became increasingly international in this period, including the crucial relationships that naturalists in the new United States maintained with British and European patrons after independence; and these international networks facilitated and encouraged ecological exchanges of a variety of species, especially plants such as wild rice that might prove useful for basic subsistence or profitable as commercial crops. Despite the links between naturalists in Britain and North America, however, northern species were relatively negligible objects of metropolitan interest. The further transatlantic travels of other North American species in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries illustrate this point.

As William Dandridge Peck had noted, Banks was interested in naturalizing a number of cooler-climate, edible plants from northern America besides wild rice, including strawberries from Hudson Bay and cranberries [End Page 154] from Quebec. He was especially successful at growing cranberries in the pond at Spring Grove and declared that they had become “an object of some importance in the economy of the family.” But this benefit to his household resulted “entirely” from a “fortunate accident” rather than a deliberate attempt to cultivate them for commercial production. In one of his shipments, John Mervin Nooth had mixed together cranberry and Zizania seeds and, with little help from the gardener, cranberries had grown to overflow from the small basin in which he had originally planted them, eventually outcompeting wild rice in the pond.60 Banks also proved to be noncommittal with regard to a botanical station proposed for acclimatizing warm climate plants to northern environments in Nova Scotia, to be located at Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth’s summer home outside of Halifax.61 In another example, the governor’s wife and other American elites sent several living moose deer to British menageries during the 1790s to help British naturalists and livestock breeders compare faunal species such as American moose and European or Eurasian elk. Despite their different common names, they turned out to be the same species: Alces alces. One individual’s likeness was immortalized by the famous livestock painter George Stubbs and reprinted on the title page of Thomas Pennant’s popular natural history, Arctic Zoology. Most moose that sailed to Britain, however, died in transit or soon after arrival.62

Compared to the much larger British imperial project of acclimatizing and improving a wide variety of plants and animals in the far more productive growing environments of the tropics and subtropics, these attempts in promoting the study and economic botany of northern species were meager (or, as in the case of cranberries, merely accidental). By the late eighteenth century, wild rice acclimatization was only one of many botanical projects discussed among Banks’s much larger circle of naturalists around the world and one of very few such projects that focused on species from the northern regions of British territories. The minor status of northern acclimatization experiments is reflected in their small numbers and relative obscurity. In his early trips to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1766, Banks had been impressed by the quality (if not [End Page 155] the quantity or size) of garden produce in northern North America, but his trip to the South Pacific with James Cook just a few years later seems to have convinced him that even England’s climate was too “changeable” to compete with the botanical potential of tropical and subtropical flora in the West Indies, South Pacific, Africa, and South Asia, which were increasingly important to the empire in the nineteenth century. The small proportion of material in his correspondence and papers related to species from cold or temperate climates compared to those from tropical climates suggests that, at least in his official roles, Banks became relatively less interested in plants such as Zizania.63 Aside from his involvement in Iceland and an enduring fascination with the possibility of a northwestern passage to the Pacific Ocean, northern colonial territories were of minimal interest to the imperial enterprise or to Banks and, therefore, to most naturalists and improvers under his patronage.64

Low priority only partly accounts for why acclimatizers relinquished wild rice. North American Zizania is also an exceptionally finicky and erratic plant and its unique physiology was incompatible with their grand designs. Although eighteenth-century naturalists solved the problem of wild rice seed storage for export, they did not entirely understand all of the plant’s characteristics, including its unpredictable responses to vagaries of weather. Zizania is an annual plant capable of seeding itself, but seed maturation is highly variable, subject to microclimatic and seasonal variations and shifts in water level that determine the depth to which seeds sink into muddy soils. As John Bartram told Pehr Kalm, the fruit sometimes ripens “very unevenly and not all simultaneously.” Heavy rains in late spring may “drown” seeds and exceptionally hot, dry summers inhibit germination and fruiting, which in turn reduce yields. In any particular wild rice stand, harvest failure has typically occurred every four years.65

Nooth noticed some of the plant’s responses to climatic differences and variation. In 1791 he told Banks that he was “mortified to find that there is reason to believe that the Seed will not often ripen in Britain.” He decided that Zizania aquatica required extreme seasonal conditions such as those [End Page 156] found throughout most of North America east of the Rockies: cold winters with hard frost and very hot, humid summers. Nooth also noted that, when the plant blossomed underwater as he had observed that summer in northern Quebec, “even the Heat of a Canadian Summer is not capable of bringing it to maturity.”66 Banks and other naturalists might have concluded that their experiments to breed Zizania were unsuccessful because of subtle, decisive, and unfathomable climatic differences between the temperate climates of North America, Britain, and Europe.67

Botanists’ inability to control wild rice probably resulted as much from their narrow focus on manipulating the plant’s environmental requirements as on their unwillingness to learn and adapt Native American practices. If they had consulted Native American cultivators, they might have predicted the difficulties in transplanting and acclimatizing Zizania in Britain.68 Native American approaches to wild rice were tolerant of the plant’s irregular patterns of sprouting and growth. As a result of multiple factors, wild rice yields have been historically unpredictable and highly localized. Sometimes harvest failure was critical enough to cause temporary migration or resettlement. But Indians did not rely exclusively on wild rice as a staple. Nations that exploited wild rice beds also cultivated a diverse range of other foods. In a bad rice year, they could rely on corn, meat, or nonlocal foods acquired through trade. Their food culture was structured by a high degree of responsiveness and adaptability to prevailing but necessarily variable weather conditions. They manipulated wetlands to ensure better harvests, but they also moved camp when circumstances changed or they found more predictable areas of food production.69

By contrast, British naturalists sought to adapt wild rice to make the plant reliably productive no matter what the prevailing conditions. Although they admired its vigor as a wild plant, they ultimately wanted to [End Page 157] domesticate it and export the improved variety throughout the empire.70 Historians have long noted that British naturalists in the second half of the eighteenth century followed Carolus Linnaeus in trying to apply knowledge about climatic regions to the orchestration of plant and animal transfers that could benefit the nation and empire. Naturalists’ particular interest in wild rice acclimatization reveals that they also grappled with the possibility that climates were undergoing continuous, perhaps permanent, change. If Banks became certain only in 1817 that climatic instability was real, his earlier experiments with Zizania suggest that at the turn of the century he had already begun to explore a kind of contingency plan for what he believed was “a considerable change of climate.” Neglecting Native American practice, he wrote about exploiting wild rice on a large scale as the realization of a biblical and imperial dream of guaranteed abundance: a self-reproducing, prodigious staple impervious to unexpected developments, including “inexplicable” changes in the climate.71

Zizania never fulfilled this dream. The very idiosyncrasies of the plant that Banks admired also prevented such standardization. In spite of its many apparent advantages, wild rice did not conform to acclimatizers’ demands and expectations. Wild rice might have become the consummate alternative foodstuff of the British Empire, but when improving it was not as simple as it first appeared, Banks and other enthusiasts simply gave up. Zizania briefly inspired colonial and metropolitan beliefs in the malleability and improvement of nature. Ultimately, however, the plant confronted them with the limits of their ability to subsume local climates and the species they deemed useful into the political economy of empire. [End Page 158]

Anya Zilberstein

Anya Zilberstein is an associate professor in the Department of History at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. For various forms of help and encouragement, many thanks to Vicky Albritton, Joyce E. Chaplin, George Colpitts, Jason Hall, John R. McNeill, Christopher Parsons, Emily Pawley, Neil Safier, Etienne Stockland, and Lorena Walsh and the anonymous readers for the William and Mary Quarterly. Special thanks to Fredrik Albritton Jonsson and Harriet Ritvo for extensive suggestions on earlier drafts of the essay.


1. Joseph Banks, “Some Hints Respecting the Proper Mode of Inuring Tender Plants to Our Climate,” Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, 3d ed., 1 (1820): 21–25.

2. Ibid., 1: 21–25 (“ungenial summer,” 1: 22, “experiment,” 1: 24, “ungenial springs,” 1: 21); Gordon Manley, “Central England Temperatures: Monthly Means, 1659–1973,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 100, no. 425 (July 1974): 389–405, esp. 395 (3.6° C as monthly mean temperature for December 1805).

3. The distinction is between wild rice as a native North American plant and the major food plants domesticated in Mesoamerica and South America, such as corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and chocolate. The two major ethnohistories of wild rice in North America are Albert Ernest Jenks, The Wild Rice Gatherers of the Upper Lakes: A Study in Primitive Economics (Washington, D.C., 1901); Thomas Vennum Jr., Wild Rice and the Ojibway People (Saint Paul, Minn., 1988). Both include some references to eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century sources. See also Richard Asa Yarnell, Aboriginal Relationships between Culture and Plant Life in the Upper Great Lakes Region (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1964).

4. Alexander Baxter, “On the North American Wild Oats,” in Arthur Young, comp., Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts.... (Bury St. Edmunds, U.K.,1786), 6: 390–95 (“sows itself,” “most valuable,” 6: 392); Arthur Dobbs, An Account of the Countries Adjoining to Hudson’s Bay.... (London, 1744), 51 (“Abundance”).

5. [John Mitchell], The Present State of Great Britain and North America With Regard To Agriculture.... (London, 1767), 78 (“proper crops”), 72 (“duely cultivated”).

6. Arthur Young, ed., “Fall in the Price of Rice,” in Young, Annals of Agriculture, 26: 315; Richard Perren, “Markets and Marketing,” in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol. 6, 1750–1850, ed. G. E. Mingay (Cambridge, 1989), 6: 203; David Arnold, “Hunger in the Garden of Plenty: The Bengal Famine in 1770,” in Dreadful Visitations: Confronting Natural Catastrophe in the Age of Enlightenment, ed. Alessa Johns (New York, 1999), 81–111; Alan Taylor, “‘The Hungry Year’: 1789 on the Northern Border of Revolutionary America,” ibid., 145–81. For the Bengal famine, see also Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism (New Haven, Conn., 2013), 135–46. On storms, food shortages, and harvest failures in the post–Seven Years’ War period in the Spanish Atlantic, see Sherry Johnson, “El Niño, Environmental Crisis and the Emergence of Alternative Markets in the Hispanic Caribbean, 1760s–70s,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 62, no. 3 (July 2005): 365–410.

7. J. C. Beaglehole, ed., The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768–1771 (Sydney, 1962), 1: 341 (quotations); W. E. Minchinton, “Agricultural Returns and the Government during the Napoleonic Wars,” Agricultural History Review 1, no. 1 (1953): 29–43; Richard B. Sheridan, “The Crisis of Slave Subsistence in the British West Indies during and after the American Revolution,” WMQ 33, no. 4 (October 1976): 615–41; Brooke Hunter, “Wheat, War, and the American Economy during the Age of Revolution,” WMQ 62, no. 3 (July 2005): 505–26. For broader considerations of Atlantic provisioning trades, see Judith Carney, “Rice and Memory in the Age of Enslavement: Atlantic Passages to Suriname,” Slavery and Abolition 26, no. 3 (December 2005): 325–48; Bertie Mandelblatt, “A Transatlantic Commodity: Irish Salt Beef in the French Atlantic World,” History Workshop Journal, no. 63 (Spring 2007): 18–47.

8. T. H. W. [Thomas Holt White], “Natural History of the Wild Rice,” Gentleman’s Magazine: And Historical Chronicle 59, pt. 1 (1789): 127–28 (“Cast,” 127).

9. Richard Drayton, Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the “Improvement” of the World (New Haven, Conn., 2000).

10. [Mitchell], Present State, xiii (quotation). For intellectual histories of climate in the eighteenth century, see Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “The Puzzle of the American Climate in the Early Colonial Period,” American Historical Review 87, no. 5 (December 1982): 1262–89; Kupperman, “Fear of Hot Climates in the Anglo-American Colonial Experience,” WMQ 41, no. 2 (April 1984): 213–40; Vladimir Janković, Reading the Skies: A Cultural History of English Weather, 1650–1820 (Chicago, 2000); Jan Golinski, British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment (Chicago, 2007); Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier.

11. The methods for cultivating and harvesting Oryza used by slaves and planters in the Lower South were significantly different from those used by Native Americans for Zizania. For passing mention of the possibility that colonial rice planters in the Lower South might have experimented with wild rice, see Gardner P. Stickney, “Indian Use of Wild Rice,” American Anthropologist 9, no. 4 (April 1896): 115–22; Daniel C. Littlefield, Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina (Baton Rouge, La., 1981), 105–6; Judith A. Carney, Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Cambridge, Mass., 2001), 104.

12. For ricebirds, see Pehr Kalm, The America of 1750: Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America, ed. and trans. Adolph B. Benson (New York, 1964), 2: 642 (“formerly”); James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire (Lincoln, Neb., 1990), 4–16; Jenks, Wild Rice Gatherers, 1024. For Wild Rice Indians, see Francis Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West: France and England in North America (Boston, 1897), 3: 6. For rice feast, see J[onathan] Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 (London, 1778), 87, 245–46. For Indian rice, see Vennum, Wild Rice and the Ojibway, 36–38. For beliefs, see ibid., 68–72. For the fur trade, see ibid., 198–211.

13. Zizania texana is another North American species, but it was never mentioned in early sources. As with many species and subspecies distinctions, the biological difference between these varieties is trivial, so I use the genus Zizania to refer to the plant, except when quoting sources directly. See Vennum, Wild Rice and the Ojibway, 12–14. Two varieties of wild rice—Zizania latifolia and Zizania caducifolia—are native to cold temperate regions of Asia. Naturalists in the late eighteenth century first noted the close relationship between a variety of indigenous plants in northeastern Asia and northeastern America, even though their understanding of the cause of these similarities was different from more modern geological and evolutionary explanations. See Hui-Lin Li, “Floristic Relationships between Eastern Asia and Eastern North America,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new ser., 42, no. 2 (1952): 371–429; Hui-Lin Li, “Luigi Castiglioni as a Pioneer in Plant Geography and Plant Introduction,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 99, no. 2 (April 1955): 51–56.

14. Thomas Nuttall, “Collections towards a Flora of the Territory of Arkansas,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new ser., 5 (1837): 153. For Ogeechee and Monck’s Corner, see C. S. Sargent, ed., “Portions of the Journal of André Michaux, Botanist, Written during His Travels in the United States and Canada, 1785 to 1796,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 26, no. 129 (January–July 1889): 1–145, esp. 11–12, 40.

15. “Instructions for a Proposed Voyage of Discovery to North-East America,” July 20, 1745, Swedish Academy of Science, repr. in Carolus Linnaeus, Bref och skrifvelser (Uppsala, Sweden, 1907), 1: 2, annotations 56–57, as quoted in Lisbet Koerner, Linnaeus: Nature and Nation (Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 117 (quotation). For the mention of Zizania, see Johan Frederik Gronovius to Carl Linnaeus, July 26, 1740, letter 0388, The Linnaean Correspondence,, accessed Aug. 5, 2014. For Clayton’s Zizania aquatica, see James L. Reveal, “Significance of Pre-1753 Botanical Explorations in Temperate North America on Linnaeus’ First Edition of Species Plantarum,” Phytologia 53, no. 1 (March 1983): 1–96, esp. 38.

16. [Jacques] Marquette and [Louis] Joliet, Voyage et Découverte de Quelques Pays et Nations de L’Amérique septentrionale (Paris, 1681), 2–3 (“kind of grass,” 2). “La Folle Avoine dont ils portent le nom parce qu’elle se trouve sur leur terre, est une sorte d’herbe qui croit naturellement dans les petits rivieres dont le fond est de vase, & dans des lieux marecageux”; unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. Pehr Kalm, America of 1750, 2: 533 (“water tare grass”).

17. Joseph-François Lafitau, Moeurs des sauvages ameriquains, comparées aux moeurs des premier temps (Paris, 1724), 2: 96 (quotations). “Quelques Nations dans l’Amerique Septrentrionale tirent leur subsistance, d’une sorte de grain, que la nature produit d’elle-même, on le nomme le Folle-Avoine, dont les François ont transporté le nom à quelques-unes de ces Nations. C’est une plante marécageuse, qui approche assez de l’Avoine, mais qui est mieux nourrie. Les Sauvages vont la chercher dans leurs canots, au temps de sa maturité. Ils ne font que secouer les épys, les quels s’égrainent facilement, de sorte que leurs canots sont bientôt remplis, & leurs provisions bientôt faites, sans qu’ils soient obligéz de labourer ni de semer.” On the history of ethnobotany in New France, see Christopher Michael Parsons, “Plants and Peoples: French and Indigenous Botanical Knowledge in Colonial North America, 1600–1760” (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 2011).

18. For the Nipissings, see Robert Rogers, A Concise Account of North America (London, 1765), 154–55 (“wild desarts,” 155); J. Mervin Nooth to Joseph Banks, Oct. 16, 1794, “Recueil de lettres autographes signées du docteur J. Mervin Nooth, 1789–1799, 1902,” 038–03–02–08, Section des archives, Ville de Montréal, Archives de Montréal (“Harvesting”).

19. On the polysemy of sauvage, not all of which is directly translatable to English, see Gordon M. Sayre, Les Sauvages Américains: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1997), ix–xix; Allan Greer, ed., The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America (Boston, 2000), 1–19; Sara E. Melzer, Colonizer or Colonized: The Hidden Stories of Early Modern French Culture (Philadelphia, 2012), chap. 3, esp. 83–89.

20. William E. Doolittle, Cultivated Landscapes of Native North America (New York, 2002), 24–27 (quotation, 24), 34. For more on sowing seeds, see ibid., 46–47. See also Paul E. Minnis, ed., People and Plants in Ancient Eastern North America (Washington, D.C., 2003).

21. John Long, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader.... (London, 1791), 108 (“swamps are full”); Peter Pond, “Narrative of Peter Pond,” in Charles M. Gates, ed., Five Fur Traders of the Northwest.... (Minneapolis, Minn., 1933), 33 (“Bottom”), 34; Kalm, America of 1750, 1: 389 (“in the mud”), 401, 2: 533; Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, 38 (“in some places”), 524 (“watered lands”); Alexander Henry, Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories, between the Years 1760 and 1770 (New York, 1809), 242 (“luxuriant”); Alexander Mackenzie, Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans.... (London, 1801), lv (“overflowed country”).

22. Dobbs, An Account of the Countries, 62 (“Kind of wild”), 46, 51; Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, 110 (“barren”); Henry, Travels and Adventures, 242 (“beauty”).

23. Lafitau, Moeurs des sauvages ameriquains, 96 (“time of maturity”), 87; Kalm, America of 1750, 1: 389 (“in full bloom”).

24. Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, 523–24 (quotation). For barrels, see “The Diary of Hugh Faries,” in Gates, Five Fur Traders of the Northwest, 211. For rice buried underground, see “The Diary of Thomas Connor,” ibid., 253.

25. Henry, Travels and Adventures, 241–44 (“bushel,” 244); Duke de la Rochefoucault Liancourt, Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois.... (London, 1799), 292 (“four to five”), 518; Vennum, Wild Rice and the Ojibway, 137; Carolyn Podruchny, Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade (Lincoln, Neb., 2006), 118–20. For Aboriginal women as wild rice traders, see ibid., 276–77. On the variation of yields in Ojibway rice lands (quantified only since the second decade of the nineteenth century), see Vennum, Wild Rice and the Ojibway, 20–24, 107–8.

26. Kalm, America of 1750, 2: 642 (“good food”), 2: 533 (“dainty”), 1: 250; Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, 189 (“Indian nations”), 367 (“sweetness and nutritious”); [Mitchell], Present State, 71 (“Indian Corn”); Liancourt, Travels through the United States, 292 (“smaller and darker”), 518–19; Baxter, “On the North American Wild Oats,” 392 (“fit”). For rice fowl, see Alan Feduccia, Catesby’s Birds of Colonial America (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1999), 126–27. For riso selvatico (wild rice), see Luigi Castiglioni, Viaggio negli Stati Uniti dell’ America Settentrionale... 1785, 1786, e 1787 (Milan, 1790), 220. For Avena fatua, see Henry, Travels and Adventures, 240. For water oats, see David Hosack, Hortus Elginensus; or, A Catalogue of Plants, Indigenous and Exotic, Cultivated in the Elgin Botanic Garden, 2d ed. (New York, 1811), 60.

27. [Mitchell], Present State, 71 (“sorts of grain”), 72 (“improved”). On Mitchell’s correspondence and work for the Board of Trade, see Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy S. Berkeley, Dr. John Mitchell: The Man Who Made the Map of North America (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1974); Matthew H. Edney, “John Mitchell’s Map of North America (1755): A Study of the Use and Publication of Official Maps in Eighteenth-Century Britain,” Imago Mundi 60, no. 1 (January 2008): 63–85.

28. For Canadian wheat, see [John Holroyd Sheffield], Observations on the Commerce of the American States with Europe and the West Indies....” (London, 1783), 62 (“exaggerat[e]”), 27–28; [Edward Long], A Free and Candid Review of a Tract Entitled “Observations on the Commerce of the American States.... (London, 1784), 45 (“shriveled,” “excellent”), 39 (“transient”); Sheffield, Remarks on the Deficiency of Grain: On the Means of Present Relief, and of Future Plenty...., 3 pts. (London, 1800–1801). For domestic improvement, see Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier, 229–30; P. J. Marshall, Remaking the British Atlantic: The United States and the British Empire after American Independence (New York, 2012), chap. 5. For alliance for landed interest, see John Gascoigne, Science in the Service of Empire: Joseph Banks, the British State and the Uses of Science in the Age of Revolution (New York, 1998), 71–74.

29. R. W. England, “The Cluster Potato: John Howard’s Achievement in Scientific Farming,” Agricultural History Review 24, no. 2 (1976): 144–48 (“repulsive,” 146); Colin M. Coates, The Metamorphoses of Landscape and Community in Early Quebec (Montreal, 2000), 50–52 (“bad crops,” 51).

30. Joseph Banks, “An Attempt to ascertain the Time when the Potatoe (Solanum tuberosum) was first introduced into the United Kingdom....,” Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, 3d ed., 1 (1820): 8–12 (“Hill Wheat,” 11); John Ellis, A Description of the Mangostan and the Bread-Fruit.... (London, 1775), 13 (“satisfying”).

31. Baxter, “On the North American Wild Oats,” 390 (“never”); White, Gentleman’s Magazine 59: 128 (“laying”). For Kalm’s interest in Chinese wetland farming, see Koerner, Linnaeus, 116. There is a vast historical literature on British agricultural improvers’ demonization of wetlands. On colonial rice planters’ adaptation of British agricultural ideals in the Low Country South, see Joyce E. Chaplin, “Tidal Rice Cultivation and the Problem of Slavery in South Carolina and Georgia, 1760–1815,” WMQ 49, no. 1 (January 1992): 29–61; S. Max Edelson, Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina (Cambridge, Mass., 2006). On other adaptations of scientific agriculture to the North American context, see Chaplin, An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730–1815 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1993); Alan Taylor, “‘Wasty Ways’: Stories of American Settlement,” Environmental History 3, no. 3 (July 1998): 291–310; Christopher Grasso, A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1999), chap. 4; Anya Zilberstein, “Planting Improvement: The Rhetoric and Practice of Scientific Agriculture in Northern British America, 1670–1820” (Ph.D. diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008).

32. For Baxter’s mention of Banks, see Baxter, “On the North American Wild Oats,” 390–96 (“intelligent trial,” 390, “certainly demands,” 390n, “distribut[e],” 391). On Henry and Baxter’s roles in the Northwest Company, see Henry, Travels and Adventures, 235; Henry mentions Baxter in 1774 as one of his partners in England. Alan Knight and Janet E. Chute, “A Visionary on the Edge: Allan McDonell and the Championing of Native Resource Rights,” in With Good Intentions: Euro-Canadian and Aboriginal Relations in Colonial Canada, ed. Celia Haig-Brown and David A. Nock (Vancouver, 2006), 87–105, esp. 100 n 19.

33. White, Gentleman’s Magazine 59: 128 (quotations).

34. Arthur Young, “Zizania Aquatica,” in Annals of Agriculture, 17: 31–33 (“various societies,” 17: 32); Liancourt, Travels through the United States, 292 (“very useful”), 519.

35. Aylmer Bourke Lambert, “Observations on the Zizania aquatica,” Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 7 (1804), 264–65 (quotation, 264).

36. Ibid., 264–65 (quotation, 264).

37. Baxter, “On the North American Wild Oats,” 391 (quotations); Young, “Zizania Aquatica,” 33. On the variety of solutions to specimen and seed transportation, see Christopher M. Parsons and Kathleen S. Murphy, “Ecosystems under Sail: Specimen Transport in the Eighteenth-Century French and British Atlantics,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 10, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 503–29. On ships as floating greenhouses, including for the transportation of breadfruit, see Joyce E. Chaplin, Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit (New York, 2012), 143.

38. White, Gentleman’s Magazine 59: 127 (quotation). For the list of directors, see Papers and Letters on Agriculture.... (Quebec, 1790), 1. For maple syrup, see Isaac Weld, Travels Through the States of North America, and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, During the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797 (London, 1799), 221. For correspondence between Nooth and Banks, see “Recueil de lettres autographes,” Archives de Montréal.

39. Nooth to Banks, Oct. 25, 1789, “Recueil de lettres autographes,” Archives de Montréal (“without smoke”); White, Gentleman’s Magazine 59: 127–28 (“well-dried,” 128); Nooth to Banks, Nov. 5, 1790, “Recueil de lettres autographes,” Archives de Montréal (“mud of the River”); Lambert, Transactions of the Linnean Society 7: 264–65; [Elizabeth Simcoe], The Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe...., ed. J. Ross Robertson (Toronto, 1911), 211, 277–78. On the requirement of wild Zizania seed for a period of incubation in frozen temperatures in order to break out of dormancy, see P. M. Hayes, R. E. Stucker, and G. G. Wandrey, “The Domestication of American Wildrice (Zizania palustris, Poaceae),” Economic Botany 43, no. 2 (April–June 1989): 203–14; Ervin A. Oelke, “Wild Rice: Domestication of a Native North American Genus,” in New Crops, ed. Jules Janick and James E. Simon (New York, 1993), 235–43.

40. Baxter, “On the North American Wild Oats,” 390–92 (“pots,” 391, “most favourable,” 392).

41. Young, “Zizania Aquatica,” 32 (quotation), 33.

42. Banks, Transactions of the Horticultural Society 1: 22 (quotations). For pipes bringing wastewater to the artificial pond, see Banks, “An Account of the Method of Cultivating the American Cranberry (Vaccinium Macrocarpum), at Spring Grove,” Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, 3d ser., 1 (1820): 75. For Nooth’s seeds succeeding at Spring Grove, see Nooth to Banks, Nov. 2, 1791, “Recueil de lettres autographes,” Archives de Montréal; Lambert, Transactions of the Linnean Society 7: 264.

43. Banks, Transactions of the Horticultural Society 1: 23 (“vigorous”); Robert Boyle, General Heads for the Natural History of a Country Great or Small.... (London, 1692), 2–3.

44. Kupperman, American Historical Review 87: 1262–89; Janković, Reading the Skies, chap. 4; Michael A. Osborne, “Acclimatizing the World: A History of the Paradigmatic Colonial Science,” in “Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise,” ed. Roy M. MacLeod, Osiris, 2d ser., 15 (2000): 136–39; Joyce E. Chaplin, Subject Matter: Technology, the Body, and Science on the Anglo-American Frontier, 1500– 1676 (Cambridge, Mass., 2001), chap. 4; Martin J. S. Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution (Chicago, 2005), 75–80; Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier, 60–68.

45. Thomas Andrew Knight, “Introductory Remarks Relative to the Objects which the Horticultural Society Have in View,” Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, 3d ed., 1 (1820): 1–7 (“produce,” 4, “established,” 2); Banks, Transactions of the Horticultural Society 1: 21 (“more interesting”). See also Brent Elliott, “The Promotion of Horticulture,” in Sir Joseph Banks: A Global Perspective, ed. R. E. R. Banks et al. (Kew, U.K., 1994), 117–32; Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, “Rival Ecologies of Global Commerce: Adam Smith and the Natural Historians,” American Historical Review 15, no. 5 (December 2010): 1342–63. On Banks’s role in the larger context of British imperial science and improvement in this period, see Ray Desmond, “The Transformation of the Royal Gardens at Kew,” in Banks et al., Sir Joseph Banks, 105–15; Gascoigne, Science in the Service of Empire; Drayton, Nature’s Government, chap. 4.

46. Beaglehole, Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 341 (quotations); Gascoigne, Science in the Service of Empire, 169–77; Drayton, Nature’s Government, 113–14; Timothy Fulford, “The Taste of Paradise: The Fruits of Romanticism in the Empire,” in Cultures of Taste/Theories of Appetite: Eating Romanticism, ed. Timothy Morton (New York, 2003), 41–58; Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey, “Globalizing the Routes of Breadfruit and Other Bounties,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 8, no. 3 (Winter 2007).

47. Samuel Williams to Joseph Banks, Sept. 16, 1789, box 2, folder 28, Samuel Williams Papers, Special Collections, University of Vermont Library (“convinced”); Nooth to Banks, Jan. 2, 1792, “Recueil de lettres autographes,” Archives de Montréal (“oldest inhabitants”); [Mitchell], Present State, 166–67 (“much worse,” 167, “nothing,” 166); Noah Webster, “A Dissertation on the supposed Change in the Temperature of Winter....,” Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences (New Haven, Conn., 1810), 1: 1–68 (“more inconstant,” 1: 68). For climate tempering since colonization, see Report from the Committee on the Petition of the Court of Directors of the Sierra Leone Company, May 25, 1802, vol. 10 of Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, Miscellaneous Subjects: 1785–1801 (London, 1802), 744. On desiccationist theories of climate change, see Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “Climate and Mastery of the Wilderness in Seventeenth-Century New England,” in Seventeenth-Century New England, ed. David D. Hall and David Grayson Allen (Boston, 1984), 3–37; Richard H. Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism (Cambridge, 1995), chaps. 4 and 5; Grove, Ecology, Climate and Empire: Colonialism and Global Environmental History, 1400–1940 (Cambridge, 1997), 5–36; James R. Fleming, Historical Perspectives on Climate Change (New York, 1998), 11–32; Brant Vogel, “The Letter from Dublin: Climate Change, Colonialism, and the Royal Society in the Seventeenth Century,” in “Klima,” Osiris 26, no. 1 (2011): 111–28; Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier, chaps. 3 and 5. Nooth was wrong: there are no volcanoes in Quebec.

48. White, Gentleman’s Magazine 59: 128 (“summer”); Banks, Transactions of the Horticultural Society 1: 21 (“natives”), 22 (“scarce”), 24 (“theory”), 23 (“tender”).

49. [George-Louis Leclerc], le comte de Buffon, Des époques de la nature (Paris, 1778), 241, (“Assainir, défricher & peupler un pays, c’est lui rendre de la chaleur pour plusieurs milliers d’années, & ceci prévient la seule objection raisonnable que l’on puisse faire contre mon opinion, ou pour mieux dire, contre le fait réel du refroidissement de la Terre”). Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time.

50. John Leslie, An Experimental Inquiry into the Nature and Propagation of Heat (London, 1804), 536–37 (“opposed,” 536), 181–82 (“Human industry,” 182); Joseph Banks to Leslie, Apr. 19, 1805, in Neil Chambers, ed., The Letters of Sir Joseph Banks: A Selection, 1768–1820 (London, 2000), 264–65.

51. Joseph Banks to Robert Saunders Dundas, Nov. 20, 1817, in Chambers, Letters of Sir Joseph Banks, 334 (“inexplicable”); Banks, Transactions of the Horticultural Society 1: 21 (“some reason”), 23 (“tender”), 22 (“ungenial”), 31 (“cold”), 25; Thomas Andrew Knight, “Observations on the Method of Producing New and Early Fruits,” Transactions of the Royal Horticultural Society (London, 1812), 1: 30–31.

52. Joseph Banks to William Scoresby, Sept. 22, 1817, in Chambers, Letters of Sir Joseph Banks, 329 (“decrease”); Banks to Thomas Andrew Knight, Sept. 26, 1817, ibid., 331 (“Atlantic”). For Banks’s earlier correspondence with Scoresby, see Banks to Scoresby, June 12, 1810, ibid., 291.

53. Joseph Banks to William Scoresby, Sept. 22, 1817, in Chambers, Letters of Sir Joseph Banks, 329 (“matter”); Banks to Robert Saunders Dundas, Nov. 20, 1817, ibid.,334 (“ample proof ”). On the ways that twenty-first-century climate change deniers have, through internet searches, found and appropriated Banks and Scoresby’s correspondence, see Adriana Cracium, “Frozen Ocean,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 125, no. 3 (May 2010): 693–702; Gillen D’Arcy Wood, Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World (Princeton, N.J., 2014), chap. 6. In the 1830s, John Leslie reversed his position and decided that the science of meteorology was too imprecise to be able to delineate all the cycles that may have caused fluctuation in annual temperatures in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Citing Scoresby’s reports, he rejected the idea that “islands of ice, which are occasionally drifted into the Atlantic Ocean, must be sufficient, by their frigorific influence, to modify the character of our climate.” Leslie, Robert Jameson, and Hugh Murray, Narrative of Discovery and Adventure in the Polar Seas and Regions.... (New York, 1831), chap. 1 (quotation, 36).

54. John Smith, A Dictionary of Popular Names of the Plants which Furnish the Natural and Acquired Wants of Man.... (London, 1882), 83 (“food for the poor”); W. J. Bean, “The Canadian Wild Rice. (Zizania aquatica, Linn.),” Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) 1909, no. 9 (1909): 382–83 (“passed,” 383); Richard A. Salisbury, “Some Account of the Chiogenes Serpyllifolia, or Snowberry, a Fruit Nearly Allied to the Cranberry,” Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 2 (1822): 95. On wild rice still growing at Spring Grove in 1819, see Jenks, Wild Rice Gatherers, 1037. For fens drainage, see David N. Robinson, “Sir Joseph Banks and the Lincolnshire Influence,” in Banks et al., Sir Joseph Banks, 193–95.

55. William D. Peck to David Hosack, Sept. 15, 1807, folder: Papers 1805–1807, box 2, HUG 1677, William Dandridge Peck Papers, Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, Mass. (quotations); Peck, journal entries for Aug. 9, 1807, and Sept. 15, 1807, folder: Papers 1800–1804, ibid.

56. Hosack, Hortus Elginensus, viii–x. The first edition was published in 1806.

57. “Report of the committee on the Garden, July 29, 1809,” box 13, folder 30, Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture Papers, ms. N–517, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

58. “Report of the committee on ye Garden, July 30, 1808,” ibid.; “Report of the committee on the Garden, March 31, 1810,” ibid.; “Report of the committee on the Garden, June 30, 1810,” ibid.; “Report of the committee on the Garden, July 27, 1811,” ibid.; W. D. Peck, A Catalogue of American and Foreign Plants, Cultivated in the Botanic Garden, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Cambridge, Mass., 1818), iii–iv.

59. Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, preface; Alexander Henry to Joseph Banks, Oct. 18, 1781, “Letters autographes signées d’Alexander Henry et John Henry, 1781, 1788, 1899,” Section des archives, Ville de Montréal, Archives de Montréal; Henry, Travels and Adventures, [iii]; Long, Voyages and Travels, vii–x.

60. Banks, Transactions of the Horticultural Society 1: 75–78 (“object,” 75, “entirely,” 77); Salisbury, Transactions of the Horticultural Society 2: 95.

61. William Aiton to Joseph Banks, Oct. 4, 1803, Additional Manuscripts 33982, 264–65, British Library, London; Henry Bowyer to Joseph Banks, Dec. 23, 1803, Banks Correspondence 2.282, Library Art and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K.

62. The moose deer is not to be confused with the North American elk (Cervus canadensis). W. D. Ian Rolfe, “A Stubbs Drawing Recognized,” Burlington Magazine 125, no. 969 (December 1983): 738–41; [Thomas Pennant], Arctic Zoology (London, 1785), t.p., 17; Col. Morse to John Wentworth, Feb. 5, 1785, MG1, vol. 939, RG 1, vols. 49–57, Wentworth Papers, Nova Scotia Archives; Frances Wentworth to Lord Fitzwilliam, Sept. 7, 1787, ibid.; Wentworth to Lady Milton, August 1795, ibid.; Joseph Banks to Adam Wolley, Feb. 4, 1799, in Chambers, Letters of Sir Joseph Banks, 204–6.

63. Patrick O’Brian, Joseph Banks: A Life (London, 1987), 91 (“changeable”), 52–57, 128.

64. On concerns specific to northern environments, see Sverker Sorlin, “Ordering the World for Europe: Science as Intelligence and Information as Seen from the Northern Periphery,” in “Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise,” ed. Roy M. MacLeod, Osiris, 2d ser., 15 (2000): 51–69; Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier.

65. Kalm, America of 1750, 2: 642 (“very unevenly”). For impact of rain, heat, periodicity of failure, water chemistry, and other factors, see John B. Moyle, “Wild Rice in Minnesota,” Journal of Wildlife Management 8, no. 3 (July 1944): 177–84 (“drown,” 182). For the geographic distribution of wild rice, see Gary W. Crawford and David G. Smith, “Paleoethnobotany in the Northeast,” in Minnis, People and Plants, 172–257, esp. 202–4; Doolittle, Cultivated Landscapes of Native North America, 24–27, 34, 46.

66. Nooth to Banks, Nov. 2, 1791, “Recueil de lettres autographes,” Archives de Montréal (quotations). In the twentieth century, Kew botanists rediscovered Zizania’s need for seasonal extremes. See Bean, Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information 1909: 384.

67. Botanists continued to be pessimistic that Zizania would “ripen properly in England.” See J. H. Holland, “Food and Fodder Plants,” Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Gardens, Kew) 1919, nos. 1 and 2 (1919): 1–84, esp. 22.

68. On the crucial but often unattributed role of indigenous, local, folk, or women’s knowledge in contributing to extra-European natural history in the eighteenth century, see Susan Scott Parrish, American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2006). A similar set of issues about the “colonization of knowledge” is at stake in the debate provoked by the black rice thesis. For a synopsis of this debate and modifications of it, see S. Max Edelson, “Beyond ‘Black Rice’: Reconstructing Material and Cultural Contexts for Early Plantation Agriculture,” American Historical Review 115, no. 1 (February 2010): 125–35.

69. For camps near food sources, see John L. Riley, The Once and Future Great Lakes Country: An Ecological History (Montreal, 2014), 12–13, 17. For responses to rice failure, see Vennum, Wild Rice and the Ojibway, 42.

70. Most of the so-called wild rice available for purchase in today’s supermarkets is a domesticated hybrid with a glossy, shatterproof outer layer that allows the fruit to be mechanically harvested and processed. It is this variety, developed in the late nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries by plant breeders at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the United States Department of Agriculture, that is now grown on a commercial scale in California, Minnesota, Manitoba, Australia, and Hungary. George Vasey, The Agricultural Grasses of the United States (Washington, D.C., 1889), 47; Bean, Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information 1909: 381–85. Domesticated wild rice has a non-shattering seed head and is therefore incapable of self-seeding; see Noel Kingsbury, Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding (Chicago, 2009), 28–29.

71. Joseph Banks to Robert Saunders Dundas, Nov. 20, 1817, in Chambers, Letters of Sir Joseph Banks, 334 (quotations).

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