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Plant distribution

On a long-term Plant-People Big History scale, the most obvious impact has been the human redistribution and transformation of the Earth’s vegetation.

Human appropriation of land has been mainly for agriculture, but human-induced land use change is diverse and includes deforestation for timber, human-induced flooding and fire regimes, horticulture, forestry, conversion to pasture and rangeland, and much more – the consequences of which have included substantial species extinction. No doubt global warming has also changed vegetation patterns.

In general terms this human impact has entailed an accelerating increase in the proportion of cultivated to wild plants over time, and an intensification of the human manipulation of plant genetics.

The exploitation of the world flora for human use – the global sharing of plant benefits – is a finite process that is now in a closing phase.  The global redistribution of plants of economic benefit to humanity, as a whole, that had begun in a small way with ancient trade routes that included the Silk Road, surged ahead in the Age of Plants. This lasted about 400 years between 1550 and 1950, and coincided with the globalization we associate with the European colonial expansion that began with a Columbean exchange across the Atlantic of plants between the Old and New Worlds, and the spice race to the opposite side of the world that launched the global economy.  Temperate crops became staples in similar climates across the world (the result of vast European land grabs on several continents); there was a free exchange of economic plants between the east and western tropics (the East Indies and West Indies), and ornamental plants became the subjects of intense prospecting in an era of plant hunters.

This reconfiguration of the world’s plants is difficult to quantify, but recent technology (satellite imagery etc.) has facilitated informed speculation about historical global land use. Of special interest here is the global historical transformation of land (referred to on this PlantsPeoplePlanet web site as Agraria), that followed the space-hungry Neolithic Agricultural Revolution as it played out, at separate times, across the world.


Wild plants

Species composition

The Western scientific (universal) system of plant classification, nomenclature, and description into basic kinds called species is now accepted world-wide as an efficient way of categorizing the fundamental components of vegetation. Though there are specialized ways to designate botanical communities

There are several botanical and ecological ways of classifying natural plant communities but with human disturbance it becomes increasingly difficult to define define their composition, stability, and boundaries.  The modern synthesis of the plant community is as an assemblage of species’ populations aggregated in a region resulting from dispersal, tolerances to local site characteristics, and response to disturbance. The phenomena of succession and climax and the disturbances that initiate succession are integral to understanding plant community dynamics.


Plant biomass

Cultivated plants

Around one quarter of the Earth’s surface is today covered by plants that originated in cultivation.

These are essentially the plants of commerce and though there are many ways in which they may be classified it is the conventional economic division into the categories of agriculture, horticulture, and forestry that has widest general application. However,  the world of economic botany is better served by categories that more closely reflect human historical intellectual and historical concerns.

The distribution of economic plants around the world has been determined by human exploration, migration, conquest, colonialization, and commercial enterprise. This is discussed in greater detail in the article on cultivated plant globalization.

Species composition

Medicinal plants

Agricultural plants

Horticultural crops

Ornamental plants

Forestry plants

Naturalized plants

3 October 2022 – First published on the internet

Anthropogenic biomes datasets describe potential natural vegetation, biomes, as transformed by sustained by human population density and land use including agriculture and urbanization. Anthropogenic biome categories (Anthromes) are defined by population density and land-use intensity. The data consists of 19 anthrome classes in six broad categories.









                 WILD PLANTS


                WILD SPACES



        medicine (+ culin'y/arom'ic)
        agriculture (cereals, staples)
        horticultural crops


        urban landscapes

World Anthromes
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