Exchanged Plants

The entire world would be changed forever after Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas . Nothing would go back to the way it was. Everybody’s lives would be permanently affected. The peoples from the Old World (Asia, Africa, and Europe) were now exposed to a New World (North and South America) that was filled with many amazing things that would change the way they lived their lives. Conversely, the Native Americans of the New World were also affected by all the amazing things that the Europeans brought with them.

Despite earlier Europeans (Vikings) visiting North America hundreds of years earlier, the exchange of items, ideas, and culture was limited until the arrival by Christopher Columbus. The Vikings made no mention of their discovery to other European countries and the existence of America became lost knowledge in the Old World. The arrival of Spain, under the direction of Columbus changed all of that. Spain would serve as ambassador to the New World bringing with them the Old World’s knowledge, culture, religion, food, animals, crops and unfortunately for the Native Americans, their diseases as well. Spain would return to Europe with all of America’s treasures, resources, gold, silver, crops, animals, culture and even a few of their diseases.

The Origin of Exchanged Items

  • Chicken
  • Cow
  • Horse
  • Pig
  • Llama
  • Turkey
  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Carrots
  • Cinnamon
  • Coffee
  • Onion
  • Rice
  • Avocado
  • Beans
  • Cocoa
  • Corn
  • Tomato
  • Tobacco
  • Vanilla
  • Chicken Pox
  • Small Pox
  • Malaria
  • Measles
  • The Flu
  • Common Cold
  • Syphilis

Environmental Changes

The introduction of livestock and non-native plant species had a large impact on the environment of the Americas. Many plants that grew fine in the Old World would have been considered an invasive species in the Americas, which means it would have grown faster than the native plants and even eliminated their presence in certain areas.

Europeans also regarded land as personal property and changed the land to fit their needs. This was in stark contrast to many Native Americans who thought of their land as communal property. Europeans cut down trees to start farms to the point that entire forests may have been removed. These same forests would have been considered hunting grounds for many natives.

Cultural Exchange

Native Americans and Europeans both exchanged their ideas, religions, foods, and customs. In many locations the relationship between the two was beneficial for both groups and they coexisted peacefully. However, most of the time that was

Slash & Burn Practice

Slash & Burn Practice

not the case and Native Americans were systematically removed from their land to make way for European “progress.” Native Americans had no real defense against European technological advances, such as their ships, guns, weapons and armor. However, the biggest  problem for the native populations was the arrival of  Old World diseases, of which they had no immunity to. It is estimated that up to 90% of the native population died from these diseases.

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For Teachers

If you have any resources related to the Columbian Exchange please link to them in the comments section below.

Discussion Questions

List some effects of Columbus’ discovery.

Which group of people do you think benefited the most from the Columbian Exchange? Explain.

Looking at the chart above: How has your life today been affected by the Columbian Exchange?

Looking at the chart above: If you had to go back in time and choose a side of the world to live on which would it be? Why?


Primary Sources


The following quote is John Winthrop’s perception of the natives in Massachusetts and how God sees the natives as lesser people.

“Touching these savages, there is a thing I cannot omit to remark to you, it is that it appears visibly that God wishes that they yield their place to new peoples.”

~John Winthrop

Why do you think Europeans viewed the natives as not worthy of keeping their own land?



The following quote is John Smith’s perception of how the natives couldn’t possibly use all of the land in America and they would willingly sell it for cheap.

And here in Florida, Virginia, New-England, and Cannada, is more land than all the people in Christendome can manure, and yet more to spare than all the natives of those Countries can use and cultivate. The natives are only too happy to share: If this be not a reason sufficient to such tender consciences; for a copper kettle and a few toyes, as beads and hatchets, they will sell you a whole Country .

~John Smith

Explain why you think Europeans believed Natives would trade land for such trivial possessions?



The following picture shows the interaction between Europeans and Native Americans.


The following picture illustrates the spread of small pox to the natives after the arrival of Europeans.



A clear and simple map showing some basic exchanges happening after Europe’s discovery of America.

Columbian Exchange


This graph illustrates the how the economy of the regions of the world exploded after imperialism began.


Citations & Credits

Exchanged Plants photo courtesy of Kbh3rd : GFDL

Slash & Burn photo courtesy of  Diorit : Creative Commons 3.0