I think the five in that list are probably sugar cane, tea, cotton, potatoes and quinine, but you could make an argument for several others such as rice, wheat, tobacco, coffee, chocolate and a mixed bag of spices such as nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon.
I guess that all plants that were breed when agriculture started should be in the list : wheat, millet, rice, corn, obviously, but also buckwheat, barley, etc…
Whatever the list could be, it has to be arbitrary. I’d guess they’d include barley because of beer, potatoes because it had a huge impact, on agricultural practice in Europe, but I can’t see any obvious way to tell that, say, cultivating casava had more or less impact that growing whatever tree is favored by the silk worm or than tea.
if you say "changed history, " that’s a tough question. quinine may have been discovered from cinchona (sp?) and it speeded up exploration and colonization of africa. but you’ll ask “did it matter ultimately?”
the others, the spice and silk trade, the evolution of sweeteners, chocolate, tobacco, cotton, etc. it’s hard to value their respective impacts (at least to a non-historian like me.)
Yes, it was a reference to a book, but the title of the book was “5 plants that changed the world”. (Maybe it was this book after all - it was a pocket book ed. and might have been translated) They meant in terms of these plants leading indirectly to war or political changes.
IIRC, the plants were (not in order of importance)
Tea - the whole difficulty of China only wanting to trade tea for silver lead to considerable political changes in England, (Opium War), as well as the American colony and tea tax. And once tea plants had been smuggled out of China, the English occupied India to grow it there.
Cotton - required slaves, which had a huge impact on US society
Sugar cane - a part of the slave triangle in the form of Rum, had a big impact on trade (the huge volume of it)
and 5) … can’t remember at the moment. Coffee would be a good contender, as would probably be rubber until the invention of artifical rubber.
Potato did have a huge effect not only on Ireland and the exodus during the famine, but also allowing Prussia and other countries to grow their population.
Quinine did allow treatment of malaria which had a huge impact in Asia.
IIRC fungi are actually genetically closer to animals than to plants.
In what way? I always understood the problem to be the opposite; maize was much harder to domesticate than plants like wheat or oats. That deprived the region of a crop that could be grown to sustain a civilization for much longer than would have happened with a more tractable crop, delaying their advancement drastically due to the lack of alternatives.
As I understand it, maize is easier to plant, in a wider variety of conditions, has less maintenance issues, and is easier to collect with it’s nice big ears. This may have stopped the further domestication of other plants, and the technology necessary to take advantage of them. Maybe I’ve got that wrong though. The initial domestication may have been more difficult, but it apparently produced an ideal product.