There are lots of tremendously useful plants that humanity has domesticated — wheat is useful for bread and beer, cotton and hemp are excellent sources of fiber, cocoa beans have been used as currency, tobacco and coffee beans have opened trade routes on their own, and so on.

But let's say you, the Malicious Omnipotent Deity, decided to remove one plant from the Earth's history. It has to be specifically one — so you could remove Brassica oleracea and nuke cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts all in one go, but you can't delete all cereal grains.

Which plant would you choose to remove in order to have the most profound impact on human history? Ideally the result will be far-reaching (you could remove tulips to get rid of the Dutch tulip craze, but that doesn't change things much outside of the Netherlands) and significant (apples grow in lots of places, but losing apples doesn't change history much beyond not having apples).

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    $\begingroup$ Voting to close as primarily opinion based. You're not asking a question so much as asking for people to give you ideas. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ How far back in the timeline is an answer allowed to go? If I remove algae, I remove all plants, as all plants are believed to have evolved from algae. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Are we allowed to knock off entire families or not? You're saying I can't kill off the grasses but I can knock out the brassicas, or do you really just not like cabbage. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ I would assume the ones that are primary food sources would have the biggest impact. Would things like Corn or Rice be acceptalbe targets. Corn not existing would be massive to the americas, while no rice would basically remove the stable food from most of the world today. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix The brassicas are just one species, despite having a dozen edible forms. The grasses are many, many species. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Oct 19, 2016 at 18:03

3 Answers 3


Oryza Sativa

Wheat (Triticum sp.) would be a great choice, except that there are dozens of historically important species--such as Einkorn (T. monococcum), Emmer (T. turgidum), durum (T. durum), and bread wheat (T. aestivum)--in three major lineages: diploid, tetraploid, and the modern hexaploid. Each of these different varieties were important at different times, and most importantly there were at least two (and probably more) separate domestications of different species that lead to modern hybrids.

Rice, on the other hand, is commonly regarded as having two sub-species, broadly the short-grain sinica (East Asian) and long-grain indica (South Asia). Chinese civilization did develop in the north with a wheat and millet based agriculture, but without rice would never have expanded into the rich lower Yangtze area, losing half of it is base. North India is also wheat based, but Bengal and South India would be largely un-populated without rice.

More importantly, rice is what allowed the astonishing pre-modern population densities of both regions. Without it, world history would be much different (and even more Euro-centric!).


I would destroy barley (Hordeum vulgare), in the early 2nd century BC. Preferably in a dramatic and spectacular way, since I'm as malicious as I am omnipotent, but this isn't strictly necessary.

During the Bronze and Iron Age, advanced civilizations (i.e. ones which developed writing) arose in four main places: Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley, India, and China. In both Mesopotamia and Egypt, barley was the most important cereal crop, and it was crucial to providing the surplus food needed to sustain civilization. Its sudden disappearance would be devastating, and while it might not cause the collapse of life as they knew it, such a crisis would certainly have a far-reaching effect.

Since these early cultures formed the foundation for modern Western civilization, any significant change could affect the entire course of world history.

  • $\begingroup$ Barley was not the most common cereal crop in Mesopotamia or Egypt. One of the various varieties of wheat was more common every region at most points in time. I site this book which is basically an encyclopedia of archaeological evidence for plant domestication in said regions. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of eliminating barley, but I would have done it to see the effects it had on Europe when Cholera was spreading. People who drank beer instead of water basically saved themselves from imminent death and eliminating barley would void them of that option. It would also drastically change people's abilities to take long voyages across the sea, as beer was considered a traveling staple. $\endgroup$
    – EmRoBeau
    Oct 19, 2016 at 18:02

I agree that this is cheating.


  • Horses would be dramatically less useful in war.
  • The Mongol Conquest wouldn't have happened.
  • Europeans in the Americas lose a big military advantage.
  • Grazing land is no longer valuable in the early history of seizing territory, as it would be for cows, horses, etc.
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    $\begingroup$ The OP specifically said «but you can't delete all cereal grains.» and grass is a larger group that includes all cerials. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Grass is not a single plant, but a wide range of different species. Horses do not eat grass exclusively; they will browse on other plants, and survive in places where there's little grass. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, but "grass" is not a single species, and the question seems to consider species rather then families - note the examples. Although steppes and prairies look like a single species, they are in fact complex ecosystems with multiple varieties. The American tallgrass prairies were dominated by Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerard) but there were lots of other species which would have moved to replace the loss if it were eliminated. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2016 at 17:40

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