Plants in India - Ancient Indian Environment
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Indian Plants

yellow mango fruit

When people first came to India, about 60,000 BC, they found some plants that they already knew about, like figs and onions. There were also a lot of new plants, and people soon began to experiment with these new foods. One new food was sugar cane, which you chewed to get the soft sweet cane juice from the inside. Another was coconuts. Many different kinds of plants also grew wild. There were bananas, and mangoes, lemons, and pomegranates. India's hot climate was also good for many wild spices, especially black pepper, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon.

By the time of the Harappans, about 2500 BC, people in India were growing native Indian cotton to make their clothes. Southern Indians had learned to grow rice from their neighbors to the east in Thailand, and they ate mostly rice. Northern Indians learned to grow millet from East African traders, and they ate mostly millet. About the same time, they learned to grow lentils from their neighbors to the west, in West Asia.


When the Indo-Europeans came to India about 1500 BC, they brought with them more new foods: at this time, people in North India began to mostly eat wheat and barley, baked into flat bread or cooked into porridge. People in southern India kept eating rice.

Around 500 BC, traders along the Silk Road began to bring peaches to India from China, and soon people grew peaches in India too. The new plants spread slowly to the south, and by 300 BC, even some people in southern India were growing barley.

In the Guptan period, about 500 AD, Sogdian traders along the Silk Road brought even more new plants from China to India. The most important of these was tea. Tea already grew wild in the Assam area, in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains in north-east India, where people ate tea leaves as a vegetable, but about 500 AD the Sogdians brought tea to Iran, and from there it came to northern India.

Learn by doing: eat a mango or a banana
More about animals in India
More about the Indian environment

Bibliography and further reading about the Indian environment:

Animals of India
More about the Indian environment
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Copyright 2012-2015 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated September 2015.

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