Where are the wild versions of food crop plants?

What are the wild plants that our domesticated vegetables are descended from?

I am frequently pulling up wild scallions out of my shrubbery beds (which I treat like weeds rather than trying to eat). But where are the wild , carrots, potatoes, yams, celery stalks, corn, and all the other food crops? Our domestic animals can be traced to their wild ancestors (or more properly, I suppose, common descendents), but why don’t we ever see a wild head of lettuce?

Carrots probably came from Afghanistan, no one is exactly sure of corn’s history, but it might well be derived from some sort of Teosinte.

Kohlrabi and Brussels Sprouts Are European

Probably because many of the original ancestors of today’s domesticated plants(and animals) are almost unrecognizable to modern eyes.

To use an animal analogy, you don’t see wild poodles or dachshunds running around, but you do see dingoes running around; they’re probably closest to the original wolf ancestors.

In a plant version, you wouldn’t see broccoli or brussels sprouts, you’d instead need to look for wild cabbage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_cabbage) instead, which looks kind of like kale.

Wild carrots are the common roadside weed Queen Anne’s Lace – they’re the same species, Daucus carota. Pull one up, and it’s root looks like a small, twisted carrot.

I’ve stumbled across wild chilies (Chiltepin) in Texas. I can’t think of any other common garden vegetable or grain that I’ve seen growing in the wild. Tree nuts, yes.

Potatoes are from South America; friends who’ve visited Peru report that there are numerous varieties of potato grown there that we never see in the US. If there are still wild potatoes anywhere, they’re in the Andes. Yams were first cultivated in Africa.

Wild lettuce grows all over north america, including my back yard.

Interestingly enough, nobody knows the “wild” version of corn. Modern corn requires human intervention to propagate, and scientists have not been able to find the path that led from undomesticated corn to domesticated corn. There are theories - most common is that modern corn started as a grain called teosinte - but there are enough differences between the two that many people don’t believe the theory. It’s a vegetable mystery!

All the common coles: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, etc. are the same species and all are thought to be domestications of something called sea cabbage, which grows off the coast of England.

All the grains derive from grasses of one sort or another. They were apparently first harvested wild and then selected for desirable characteristics such as grain size and not spontaneously falling off to the ground. This made them non-viable without human intervention and so cultivation became necessary. Corn too is a grain and it is now pretty universally accepted that the wild progenitor was teosinte. Genetic studies have nailed it down. The biggest mutation there was the loss of the hard outer shell so no hulling is required. It is the only grain that can be easily made edible just by dropping it into boiling water.

I think wild potatoes are small, but since you can still cultivate them by planting a tuber, I assume they are not so different from the wild type. I know that the primordial tomatos were berry sized, probably like small cherry tomatos today. I have no idea if they were sweet at all.

beetroot, chard and leaf beet are cultivated varieties of sea beet - in fact I’ve heard it said that any of the cultvated forms can be bred from the wild species in just a few generations.

I’d like to see a book or website that shows pictures of both the familiar versions of various food crops and the wild ones prior to human intervention. (And something similar for domestic animals would also be interesting.)

The original wild apple of Kazakhstan (Malus sieversii) looks a lot like a modern cultivated apple.
-More pics of the fruit here

What we need here is a nutritional anthropologist…

Just wait guys. One will show up, I guarantee. I see it on tv all the time.

Each food crop has a center of origin (where thegenus species first developed) and a center of diversity (where a large number of varieties of the genus or species developed) which are often the same location, but not always.

The center of diversity for apples is in Eastern Turkey/Southwestern Russia.

An interesting fact is that “wild rice” (Zizania spp) is not really rice at all, and does not appear to be the “wild forebear” of rice.

According to Wiki, the orginal “wild rice” still exists:“Genetic History
Two species of rice were domesticated, Asian rice (O. sativa) and African rice (O. glaberrima). According to Londo and Chiang, O. sativa appears to have been domesticated from wild (Asian) rice, Oryza rufipogon around the foothills of the Himalayas, with O. sativa var. indica on the Indian side and O. sativa var. japonica on the Chinese and Japanese side[3].”

Cite? Even a cursory google search comes up with plenty of pages that suggest teosinte was the ancestor of corn, but I find nothing that says anything about genetic studies or that the theory is now “universally accepted.”