The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions, 3d series, 1: 522-525 (Dec. 31, 1870)

(INDIAN CORN, Zea Mays, L.)
*Read before a meeting of the Linnean Society.


With Notices of the Plant by Chinese Authors.

In the summer of 1858, and therefore shortly before the collections of Mr. Charles Wright had furnished the text for Asa Gray's celebrated essay on the connection of the Japanese and Eastern-American Floras, the venerable Professor von Martius, of Munich, in a letter on the relations of the Asiatic and American continents, directed my attention to  the inquiry whether there was any extant evidence of maize being a true native of Japan, adding that Siebold had stated it to be delineated in the arms that empire.

At that time Japan was just emerging from position of a terra clausa; no very comprehensive idea of the precise character of its flora and its connection with that of other countries, based on modern researches, was attainable, and, save a stray specimen here and there, its vegetable productions scarcely existed in herbaria except amongst the rich and unarranged treasures of the Leyden Museum. The query excited my interest at the time, but partly from Thunberg noting under Zea Mays (Fl. Japon. 37), "Colitur prope Nagasaki, a Chinensibus forsan primum in regnum hocce illata," and partly owing to the incongruity which attached in my mind to the notion of armorial bearings amongst the Japanese, though we now know that these exist, and that the feudal retainers of the powerful chieftains wear their badges precisely as did those of the mediaeval barons,—the subject soon escaped my memory. Some months back, however, my attention was attracted by an advertisement in the London seedsmen's catalogues of a striped-leaved form, alleged to have been introduced from Japan, of Zea Curagua, a Chilian species (and probably the only other one of its genus) described about eighty years ago by Molina; but on what evidence a Japanese origin is assigned to this variety I have no means of ascertaining. About the same time also Mr. A. Ernst, of Caracas, wrote to me, requesting that I would, if possible, ascertain when maize was first known in this country.

In the 'Géographie Botanique' of M. Alph. de Candolle (ii. 942 sqq.) the distinguished author has given a very complete résumé of what was known respecting the introduction of this cereal, and, after a careful and lucid examination of all the data, has expressed his unhesitating conviction that it was brought from America, though from what part of that continent he considers very doubtful, inclining, however, rather in favour of Mexico. He expresses, moreover, a desire that reliable investigations should be made as to Bonafous' suspicion, that the grain was cultivated in China prior to the discovery of America.

The question whether, in common with Phryma leptostachya, Panax quinquefolium, Tipularia discolor, and some other plants, maize may claim Asia equally with America as its native country; or, failing probable grounds for such an opinion, whether trustworthy printed evidence exists of its cultivation in Asia antecedent to the second discovery of the great American continent at the close of the fifteenth century,—is evidently of the highest interest; and the Chinese nation boasting a rich historical literature, and in matters of antiquity having perhaps a right to look on Western records much as the Saïtic priests are represented in the Timaeus to have regarded those of the Greeks, I felt convinced that the examination of native works, the statements in which relative to the sciences of observation have commanded the respect of such men as Arago, Humboldt and Biot, could not be wholly unproductive. I am not myself a Chinese scholar, but was so fortunate as to enlist in this inquiry the services of my friend Mr. W. F. Mayers, H.B.M. vice-consul at Canton, one of the most accomplished and learned of sinologues, and who besides enjoys exceptional advantages from being on amicable terms with all the high native officials at the southern capital. This gentleman had the kindness, at my request, to make inquiries of his Chinese literary acquaintances, and to undertake and execute himself a thorough examination of all the works treating of maize to which he could procure access, and the results are embodied in the accompanying memoir, the interest and value of which, as a contribution to the history of plants, all botanists will acknowledge. It was, through the writer's liberality, freely placed at my disposal, and is here given without a single alteration.

I am far from maintaining that the evidence adduced is sufficient to establish the claims of Asia to rank as a native country of this cereal. But, for my own part, I am much disposed to coincide in a remark made to me by Mr. Mayers, "that the unhesitating statement of the Pun Ts'ao, as to its origin in the countries west of China, goes a considerable way towards establishing this origin, the assertion being so unqualified that I think it must be founded on antecedent evidence, although this is now untraceable." And I may add that, in my judgment, the remote date assigned by Chinese records to its introduction, and the circumstance that the introducer is unknown are irreconcilable with the supposition that it was brought to this country by the Portuguese, their first arrival here, under Fernand Perez d'Andrada, being, I believe, in 1517, and the earliest notice of maize in European literature dating later than 1530. To those, finally, who would urge the conflicting and erroneous opinions of the early European writers, as to the country whence maize found its way to the West, as a ground for regarding Chinese statements with equal distrust, I would answer that it is not logical to apply the same canons of criticism to Western and Chinese literature, the latter being, at the period in question, in a very different and comparatively far more advanced state of development.

Whampou, 1887.                               H. F. H.


In answer to inquirers on this subject information has been sought from private sources and from the published works of Chinese authors. The following is a translation of a memorandum by Mei K'i-chao, the present Intendant of the Grain Revenue for the Province of Kwang-tung.

I. Notes on Maize (Pao-ku).

* For note respecting this plant see post, p. 525.
This work, entitled 'Nung Cheng Ts'uan Shu, was the production of Sü Kwang-k'i, an enlightened statesman of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, noted for his friendship with the Romish missionaries. His treatise, above referred to, was laid before the Emperor Wan-li in A.D. 1619.
The territory to the N.W. of Tibet has been known to the Chinese from the earliest times by the name of Si-fan, which has now, however, disappeared in favour of that of Inner Mongolia. The Si-fan for Western-alien) territory borders on the present provinces of Sz'-ch'wan and Kan-su.
See post, section iv, note, p. 525.
* The writer appears in this passage to be seeking to make clear the fact that the maize plant, not being indigenous to China, has no authorized appellation sanctioned by the uses of antiquity, and that hence the names under which it is known are merely comparative and fluctuating, according to individual or local choice, although the obvious characteristics at the plant confine the selection within the range of cereal species.

"Pao-ku is identical with Yü Shu-shú, or the jade-like Shu Millet.* The Complete Treatise concerning Agriculture† gives also the name of Yü-mi, or jade rice. The plant takes its name from the resemblance of the stem and leaves to those of the Shu- shú, or millet of Sz'-ch'wan (Barbadoes millet), compared with which, however, they are more fleshy and shorter. They also resemble the I-i, or Coix lachryma. From its lustrous white colour it obtains the name of "jade-like." It is also called. Yü Kao-liang, and Yu-mé, or jade wheat.' Also, from its seed having been brought originally from the country of Si-fan,‡ it is likewise called Fan-mé, or Fan wheat; and, having been formerly presented as tribute, it is also called imperial wheat, Yü-mé. Other names are in use, such as Jung-shu, or western pulse (Jung designating the territories to the westward of ancient China), and Yü Shu-shú, or jade millet of Sz'-ch'wan. The variety of these terms is due to the fact that the seed was introduced from abroad, so that at first it had no definite name; but, as it can be used as farinaceous food, the terms rice, wheat, millet and pulse have been made use of.* The names Fao-ku (sheathed grain), Su-mi (millet rice), and Pao-su (sheathed millet), are the designations current in the southern provinces.

Tsung-yü, a species of Scirana, the tapering body of which resembles in some degree the bract of the maize plant.
Tz'-shih, an aquatic plant, resembling the nelumbium, cultivated for its seeds, which are used in medicine. In size and farinaceous appearance they are not unlike those of the maize plant. [This has been proved on further investigation to be Euryale ferox, Sal.—H.F.H.]

"The stem grows to a height of 3 or 4 feet (42 to 56 English inches) or upwards. At each joint a sheath is put forth, growing outwards from the aide of the stem, in shape like the Tsung fish.† At the extremity of the sheath a beard of an inch or more in length is formed. The seeds are in size like those of the Tz' plant,‡ and are clustered together, enveloped in several layers of a white external covering. It flowers about the end of summer.

For note on the Pun Ts'ao and extracts respecting maize, see post.

"The Pun Ts'ao§ classes this plant with the cereals (Ku), remarking that its grain has a sweet flavour, and that its medicinal qualities are aperient. In poor country places and remote districts it is occasionally used as food. In the neighbourhood of Peking its common name is Yü-mi, or jade rice.

"The seeds are ground into flour and mixed in the proportion of one-tenth or one-fifth with wheaten flour, to which it adds whiteness and an agreeable appearance; but no one uses it as food by itself, from fear of indigestion. The maize grown in the province of Kwang-tung is slightly different, having yellowish grains.

|| Ma Fu-po, or Ma Yüam, the celebrated general of Kwang Wu of the Eastern Ham dynasty, A.D. 30. It is noteworthy that Chinese history records an expedition, headed by Ma Yuan, against the Si-fan tribes, in A.D. 36, prior to the campaign in Cochin-china, with which his name is most commonly associated. If the maize plant was really brought from the Si-fan territories to the Western Provinces of China, as the native records assert, it may well have been among the results of this early expedition; whilst a confusion in the popular tradition as to its origin is also not unintelligible, in view of the constant connection of Ma Yüam's name with his famous victories in Cochin-china.

"It is said that maize abounds chiefly in the provinces of Yün-nan and Kwei-chow, where tradition asserts that it was brought from Cochin-china by Ma Fu-po,|| but there is no genuine evidence to this effect, and confidence must not be rashly placed in the tradition. Examination of the two works above quoted, both published under the Ming dynasty, elicits only that the seed was first brought from Si-fan; but of the period at which this took place they say not a word. It is further noted that this grain was heretofore presented as tribute, but again no date is assigned. It is evident that its introduction must have taken place at a very early period; as, at the time when these works were compiled, no information could be procured."

II. Extract from the Pun Ts'ao, or Cyclopaedia of Natural History.

* Notwithstanding the additions to or reconstruction of the tort by successive editors, the words of the original and in accordance with invariable rule, both scrupulously preserved and carefully distinguished. Thus, in the modern editions of the Pun Ts'ao, the text of the author is specifically quoted at the head of subsequent additions or commentaries.
See remarks in previous note.

[Note.—The Pun Ts'ao Kang-mu was composed by Li Shih-chén during the latter half of the sixteenth century, but was not published until after his death, having been laid before the Emperor Wan-li by his son in A.D. 1597. It remains to this day the standard work of reference among the Chinese for all subjects relating to natural history and medicine; but the text of the original has been largely added to and reclassified by subsequent editors.* It has proved impossible to obtain a sight of an ancient copy of this work, and the extract translated below is taken from the edition of 1655, from which all later reprints have been made. The original plates are transferred to each edition, whether of octavo or duodecimo size; and a specimen from two of such editions is annexed hereto. Plate I. reproduces the engraving of the maize plant in the larger edition, and Plate II. shows the same drawing, reduced to a smaller scale. Plate III. is a figure of the Barbadoes millet (for note respecting which, see next page).]

"Yû-shu-shú, common name Yu-kao-liang.

See remarks in previous note.

"The text of Li Shih-chén is as follows:†—The seed of the Yü-shu-shú came from the lands on the West, and it is cultivated by but few. Its stalk and leaf both resemble the Shu-shú (Barbadoes millet), but are more fleshy and shorter. They also resemble the Coix lachryma;  the stalk grows to a height of 3 or 4 feet; it flowers in the sixth or seventh month, producing an ear like that of the Pi-mé. From the heart of the stalk there issues a sheath in shape like the Tsung fish, from which a white waving beard grows out. After a time the sheath opens and the grain comes forth. The grains are clustered together, each one as large as a Tsung (?) [used as a generic term for palms] seed,  and yellow and white in colour; they may be eaten baked or roasted. When roasted, they bunt into a white flour-like mass, similar in appearance to that produced when rice of the glutinous kind is roasted."

III. The following are the references of the Pun Ts'ao with respect to the Barbadoes millet (Sorghum vulgare, Pers.):—­

"The plant known as the Shù-shú, or millet of Sz'-ch'wan, has the following synonyms:—Lu-ts'i, reed grain; Lu-su, reed millet; Mu-tsi, wood grain; Ti-liang, reed millet; Kao-liang, tall millet. Li Shih-chen observes: 'The Sz'-ch'wan millet was not much known in forms time., but it abounds at present in the northern provinces.' The work called the 'Kwang-ya', gives the names Ti-liang and Mu-tsi (see above), on account of its belonging to the millet tribe; but from its growth to a height like that of the reeds called Lu and Ti, it has become popularly known by the various names given above. The seed was first introduced from the territory of Shü (the ancient name of the present province of Sz'-ch'wan, on the western frontier of the empire), whence it is called Sz'-ch'wan millet."

* See ante, reference from note, p. 523.

IV. Apart from the Pun Ts'ao, notices upon the present subject have also been sought in the 'Ke Chih King-yuan,' or 'Mirror of Classified Research,' a vast cyclopaedia of information in all departments of physical study practised by the Chinese, with. references under each heading to antecedent works. This collection, in twenty-four volumes, was published in 1785 by Chén Yuan-lung. It contains no reference to maize under the name of Yü Shu-shú; but describes the plant as Yü-mé (imperial wheat),* in the following terms:—

"Yü-mé, or imperial wheat, originated In the Si-fan territory (the lands beyond the western frontier of China Proper), and its ancient name was Fan-mé, or 'wheat of the foreign lands of the West.' Having been offered among tribute, it has received the name of imperial wheat. In its stem and leaf it is the congener of the Ts'i, or panicled millet, and, in its flower, of rice. The sheath enclosing the ear is like a closed fist, but longer. The beard resembles red threads. The seed is like the grain of the Tz plant, but large, lustrous, and white. The flower blooms at the top of the plant, and the seed (ear?) grows out from the joints."

V. The same work from which the above notice is taken, contains a quotation from a historical work called 'Tu Yang Tsa Pien,' or 'Miscellanies of Tu-yang,' throwing light on the practice of presenting new species of plants as tribute to the Emperor. The extract is as follows:—­

The reign known as Yan-ho commenced in A.D. 806.

"In the eighth year of Yüan-ho,† of the Tang dynasty, Pi-mé, clear green wheat, was offered as tribute by the kingdom of Ta-chin. In size it was larger than the wheat of China, and its seeds, both within and without, were of a clear green colour. Its scent was like that of the non-glutinous rice."

Canton.                                          W. F. M.