Skip to main content
Log in

The area of origin ofManihot esculenta as a crop plant—a review of the evidence

  • Published:
Economic Botany Aims and scope Submit manuscript


It has been suggested by Mangelsdorf and his co-workers (1964) that the two subdivisions (according to toxicity) into which cultivated manioc falls “had a separate and local history of cultivation,” and an examination of the evidence presented above makes it possible to elaborate on this suggestion.

It may be proposed that sweet manioc was first domesticated in Mesoamerica as one item in an assemblage of vegetatively propagated crops. Although suit-able progenitors representing the full range between sweet and bitter manioc may have been available, there is no evidence to indicate that bitter manioc was utilised in Mesoamerica at an early date, and early historical sources only record the use of the less poisonous varieties. When only the sweet varieties occur, they characteristically form part of a crop complex dominated by maize, and sweet manioc may have been spread with maize by the human migrations that penetrated into South America. Bitter manioc, on the other hand, is likely to have first come under cultivation in northern South America and to have achieved great prominence as the major crop in horticultural systems depending mainly on vegetatively propagated crops. Recovery of clay griddles from archaeological sites and the distribution of associated characteristic painted pottery types suggest that this process may have been initiated in the interior of Venezuela, with later migrations towards the coast via the Orinoco (Rouse & Cruxent, 1963). Subsequent intercommunication between, and migration of, Amerindian tribes has evidently caused both types of manioc to diffuse widely and to become established as crops of major importance. In Brazil, where there is considerable varietal diversity and an abundance of relatedManihot species, there must have been particularly favourable conditions for hybridisation and the development of new varieties of manioc; but on present evidence it seems unlikely that bitter manioc was first domesticated there.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Anderson, E. 1967. Plants, Man and Life. California.

  • Bartlett, A. E., S. Barghoorn & R. Berger. 1969. Fossil maize from Panama. Science165: 389–390.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bronson, B. 1966. Roots and the subsistence of the ancient Maya. Swest. J. Anthrop.22: 251–279.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, Robert. 1818. Observations systematical and geographical on the herbarium collected by Professor Christian Smith, in the vicinity of the Congo. London.

  • Callen, E. O. 1967. Analysis of the Tehuacan coprolites.In: Byers, D. S., ed. The prehistory of the Tehuacan ValleyI: 261–289. Texas.

  • De Candolle, A. 1882. Origin of cultivated plants. Geneva.

  • Cortez, see MacNutt, F. A.

  • Cruxent, J. M. & I. Rouse. 1969. Early man in the West Indies. Scient. Am.Dec. 1969: 42–52.

    Google Scholar 

  • Diaz del Castillo, B. 1568. The true history of the conquest of Mexico. trans. M. Keatinge (1800). London.

  • Evans, C., B. J. Meggers & J. M. Cruxent. 1958. Preliminary results of archeological investigations along the Orinoco and Ventuari rivers, Venezuela. Actas Cong. int. Amer. XXXIII, San Jose2: 359–369.

    Google Scholar 

  • Green, D. F. & G. W. Lowe. 1967. Altamira and Padre Piedra, early Preclassic sites in Chiapas, Mexico. Pap. New Wld. Archeol. Found. No. 20.

  • Harlan, J. R. 1964. The possible role of weed races in the evolution of cultivated plants. Euphytica14: 173–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris, D. R. 1969. Agricultural systems, ecosystems and the origins of Ucko, P. J. & G. W. Dimbleby, eds. The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals. 3–13. London.

  • Hawkes, J. G. 1969. The ecological background of plant Ucko, P. J. & G. W. Dimbleby, eds. The domestication and exploitation of plants and animals. 17–29. London.

  • Heiser, C. B. 1965. Cultivated plants and cultural diffusion in nuclear America. Am. Anthrop.67: 930–949.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Humboldt, A. von 1811. Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain. Paris. de Jonnès, Moreau. 1824. Analyse des travaux de l’Académie royale des Sciences, pendant l’année 1824. Mém. Acad. Sci. Inst. Fr. 7: 155.

  • Levi-Strauss, C. 1948. The Nambicuara. Handbook of South American Indians, Bur. Am. Ethnol. Bull. 143,3: 363.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lipkind, W. 1948. The Caraja. Handbook of South American Indians, Bur. Am. Ethnol. Bull. 143, 3: 181–182.

    Google Scholar 

  • MacNeish, R. S. 1958. Preliminary archeological investigations in the Sierra de Tamaulipas, Mexico. Trans. Am. phil. Soc.48(6): 1–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • MacNutt, F. A., trans. 1908. The Letters of Cortes to Charles V. New York.

  • Mangelsdorf, P., R. MacNeish & G. Willey. 1964. Origins of agriculture in Middle America.In: Wauchope, ed. Handbook of Middle American Indians1: 427–445.

  • Meggers, B. J. & C. Evans. 1957. Archeological investigations at the mouth of the Amazon. Bur. Amer. Ethnol. Bull. 167.

  • Nordenskiöld, E. 1924. The ehnography of South America seen from Mojos in Bolivia. Comparative Ethnological Studies 3. Gothenburg.

  • Raynal, G. T. F. 1772. Philosophical and Political History of the Europeans in the East and West Indies. trans. Justamond, 1776. Amsterdam.

  • Reichel-Dolmatoff, G. 1957. Momil: a formative sequence from the Sinu valley, Colombia. Am. Antiq.22: 226–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reichel-Dolmatoff, G. 1965. Colombia. Ancient People and Places Series, No. 44. London.

  • Rogers, D. J. 1963. Studies ofManihot esculenta Crantz and related species. Bull. Torrey bot. Club90: 43–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rogers, D. J. 1965. Some botanical and ethnological considerations ofManihot esculenta. Econ. Bot.19: 369–377.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rogers, D. J. 1967. A computer-aided morphological classification ofManihot esculentaCrantz. Proceedings, International Symposium on Tropical Root Crops, Trinidad.1: 57–78.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rouse, I. & J. M. Cruxent. 1963. Venezuelan Archeology. Yale.

  • Saint-Hilaire, A. de. 1833. Note sur l’origine du Manioc. Archs Bot. (Guillemin)1: 239–240.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sauer, C. O. 1950. Cultivated plants of South and Central America. Handbook of South American Indians, Bur. Am. Ethnol. Bull. 143,6: 487–543.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sauer, C. O. 1952. Agricultural origins and dispersals. New York.

  • Vavilov, N. I. trans. K. Starr Chester. 1951. The origin, variation, immunity and breeding of cultivated plants. Chronica bot.13: 1–366.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wijmstra, T. A. & T. van der Hammen. 1966. Palynological data on the history of tropical savannas in northern South America. Leid. geol. Meded.38: 71–90.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

This paper is based on a fuller discussion included in an unpublished thesis submitted by the author for the M.Phil, degree in the University of London, 1970. The title of the thesis is “Manioc (Manihot esculenta Crantz) and its role in the Amerindian agriculture of tropical America.”

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Renvoize, B.S. The area of origin ofManihot esculenta as a crop plant—a review of the evidence. Econ Bot 26, 352–360 (1972).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: