Whole Leaf Tobacco

Tobacco History: Collecting Seed for the USDA

deluxestogie

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Raymond Stadelman, Agricultural Explorer for the USDA


Article from the New York Post, Feb. 1, 1937.

This is a collection of snippets from the activities of one of the USDA's agricultural specialists, who were sent across the globe during the 1930s. This sort of primary source history is a delight to read, if only for the raw adventure it narrates.

In a letter (thanks to digitizing by Jessica) from Raymond Stadelman, dated May 14, 1936, Gran Hotel Bolivar, Lima, Peru, he says about a variety of tobacco collected at Machu Picchu, "There is also a white-flowered variety locally known as 'Havana'... Seed sample No. 114." This is now labeled in GRIN as Pi 116159 (Ti 719), the variety that I have called "Machu Picchu." It indeed shows the form of a Spanish type tobacco. Given its local label of "Havana," I can't help but conclude that it was an import to the Machu Picchu area, even in 1936, and not a variety native to that isolated region of Peru. This revelation exemplifies the unfortunate loss of data that occurs between the collectors of rare tobacco seed from remote areas, and the condensed presentation available within the GRIN data.

As a result of this additional info, I will rename my Machu Picchu tobacco "Machu Picchu Havana."

Aside from near daily endangerment during his travels, Stadelman writes with dry humor and a joy in life.

Raymond Stadelman said:
The overseer of the hacienda was quite agreeable to me, and gave me oranges and coca leaves. This region, by the way, is a great producer of coca.... It is usually chewed (the dried leaf) with a bit of ashes (I think an alkali is supposed to liberate the alkaloid from the leaf), usually the ash of a certain wood, or the pod of the cocoa tree. ... They have a castilianized keshua (Ketchua) verb meaning to chew coca leaves - "picchar". And the cud that they throw away is called "picchu", which is a new meaning of the word, as it is usually taken to mean "mountain", although no one is really sure just what it does mean, as in the names Machu (old) Picchu and Huaina (young) Picchu, the two mountains at Machu Picchu, one of which is much larger than the other. I learned to chew coca, and found that it was often better than eating the food they give one at some places.
Porno anyone?

Raymond Stadelman said:
Monday I went to the Museum of Archeology, and a very interesting place it is. Among other things, I learned, from seeing the private collection of pornographic art, that the ancient Chimús had a fine sense of humor. I'll tell you about it some day, for I imagine that you have a girl secretary, and after all, some things are sacred, and not to be put in a letter for your files!
Thank you, horse.

Raymond Stadelman said:
We started out the following morning on a pair of worthless horses, and had to climb a considerable distance over a very narrow trail that had a very deep abyss on one side. My horse almost gave me the jitters by his apparent indifference to danger, as he walked almost on the edge. He finally became so careless that he started walking into small bushes and huge boulders on the curves of the trail, and at last, when he escaped by a hairs breadth from falling into the abyss with me, I got off his back and started cursing him for a blind so-and-so. And then I noticed that he was, after all, quite blind, for a leather blinder strap that all bridles in these parts carry, had slipped and fallen down over his eyes. As I looked back over the narrow trail up which we had come blundering along, I thanked my lucky star and felt like apologizing to the horse.
Pelicans and Cubans.

Raymond Stadelman said:
Saturday I left for Tumbez. There are two roads, one of which follows along the beach for a great distance, and the other which goes inland. The beach road is the better, but it is necessary to go at low tide, of course, we sped along at full speed, and the ride was as smooth as in an airplane. From time to time we killed pelicans and other sea birds that didn't move quickly enough. I went directly to the Hacienda La Noria, which is the residence or Raimundo Quintana, Cuban expert on tobacco who is employed by the Peruvian government. Unfortunately, Quintana had gone to Lima, so I did not get to see him, but his brother-in-law, and wife were there, and treated me very well indeed. I stayed at this hacienda the entire time I was there in that region. The tobacco was being transplanted at this time. The Cuban system is used, with some minor variations in the curing.
The above quote reinforces my impression that Cuban tobacco as well as Cuban methods were already being used in Peru in 1936.

The "Cuban" system.

Raymond Stadelman said:
Due to selection by the Estanco [the tobacco monopoly]. there is now a single class of tobacco planted in this region. the local "amarilla" variety. Seed beds sown in March-April, transplanted about 50 days later. and after 80-90 days the harvesting begins With the lower leaves. The Cuban system is used, with some variations to suit local conditions. The harvested leaves, strung on cords, are left in the shade of the curing barns 4 to 5 days, then taken out into the open and sunned daily (replaced in barns at night) for 8-10 days. then replaced in the barns to complete the cure, which is usually 25 days after cutting. It is then piled and fermented for 25 days, the usual precautions being observed regarding temperature of the piles. The ground is not turned over, so that suckers come up and are harvested in late September. Sometimes this second crop is better than the first.
The pro-smoking lobby.

Raymond Stadelman said:
The consumption of tobacco in Peru is about ... annually, and drives the Estanco considerable worry as to how to increase it. As there is no demand for Peruvian tobacco abroad, they intend to try to increase the local use, as at present only 7 to 8% of Peruvians are smokers. The Estanco is thinking about making a cigarette suitable to the people, and distribnuting them free of charge until such time as the natives have acquired the habit, when a price will be put upon them, and they will be made to pay what they ought to, to the government! Make your own comments upon this.
In addition to his years of travel to remote villages throughout South America to collect tobacco seed, map his journeys, and submit drawings of any interesting plants, leaves and blossoms he came across, Stadelman also collected seed and specimens of numerous other plants (for various US researchers) as well as small fish, insects and animal specimens for US specialists, and authored at least one book [Maize Cultivation in Northwestern Guatemala (Contributions to American Anthropology and History, No 33), Carnegie Institution of Washington; 1940], for which he visited 27 isolated settlements and identified 166 varieties of maize (corn).

Bob
 

Knucklehead

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Is the entire narrative available for reading or just the snippets? Very interesting, thanks for posting.
 

deluxestogie

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Agricultural Explorers of the USDA’s Bureau of Plant Industry, 1897–1955

http://www.huntbotanical.org/admin/uploads/03hibd-huntia-14-1-pp23-50.pdf (~25 pages)

This is a history of the bureau. While a few short stretches seem somewhat dry, the article is filled with delightful pearls, and is an excellent, leisurely read. Various programs of the USDA (say, the tobacco buy-out) arise regularly for specific reasons, then disappear. It seems that much of their effort over the decades is directed at stabilizing farm income. The Food Stamp program, for example, did not begin as a means of helping poor people afford food. It resulted, instead, from the excessive surplus food that the USDA purchased from farmers in order to stabilize prices. As a means of coping with these continually increasing USDA commodity purchases, they looked for ways to distribute it.

The article also discusses the massive disruption of foreign sources of important products caused by WW1 and WW2, and the efforts by the bureau to either come up with alternatives, or to procure the relevant species, and establish them within the US: Chinchona bark for making quinine to prevent or treat malaria (a major issue with WW2 troop deployment to far flung tropical regions); rubber trees (for military tires), kapok (for stuffing life vests). ["Hey, kids. Go out and gather milkweed pods, then take them to the Farm Bureau office."]

The word, tobacco, appears nowhere in this 2009 article, but the USDA's efforts to identify unknown varieties that might be resistant to commercially important tobacco diseases follows the same motivation, and was an integral mission of the bureau.

Bob
 

deluxestogie

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Primitive Tobacco Varieties of Honduras

I've been reading Victor Wolfgang von Hagen's book, Jungle in the Clouds, about his 1937 expedition into the could forests of Honduras to not only prove that the legendary quetzal bird (regarded as a god by the Aztecs and others) is not extinct, but also to capture live specimens. The project was conceived in a smoke-filled bar in Honduras, during a conversation with von Hagen's friend, Raymond Stadelman. And the book is dedicated to Raymond Stadelman, with whom we began this thread.

In the course of the book, von Hagen discovers an "uncontacted" tribe of Jicaque Indians on an isolated mountain. Among their crops is tobacco! Wow. It seems to me that would be some authentic, original Honduran tobacco. Did anybody collect its seed for GRIN?

I did some detailed searching through the GRIN database and their original accession documents. Stadelman, it turns out, collected seed of only a single variety of tobacco in Honduras (in 1935). He had been studying something else while he was there. von Hagen collected no tobacco seed.

William A. Archer, another "Agricultural Explorer of the USDA" did collect tobacco seed in Honduras during 1936, but unlike Stadelman's hikes into the remote regions of Peru (and our undaunted forum member, tutu, in Indonesia over the past couple of years), Archer, by contrast seems to have simply spoken with an American agronomist at the University in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, and requested diverse tobacco seed varieties--not so impressive.

In my GRIN search, I identified only three Honduran varieties that were classed as "primitive".

  • Ti 712 Chichicaste (Archer 1936)
    Pi 116087
  • Ti 708 Negro (Archer 1936)
    Pi 116082
  • Ti 180 Chichicaste (Stadelman 1935)
    Pi 112115 [Portillo Grande, Yorito, Yoro]
The Chichicaste that I grew in 2013 was Archer's Ti 712. I found it to be tall, vigorous, and somewhat rank in its growth. It made decent cigar filler, though quite strong.



Stadelman's Chcicaste Ti 180 was acquired in a developed, civilized part of the country, so has no convincing provenance as "ancient". The only primitive that might qualify is Archer's accession called "Negro".



From Jessica's photos on GRIN, Negro looks to all the world like Bolivia Criollo Black, being somewhat tall, with long, narrow, pointed leaves. The latter is a variety that I've grown, and found to be potent and not all that nice in cigars. Ti 708 and Ti 712 appear similar, and both have vermilion blossoms.



To further dash any hope of a genuine throwback having been found among the isolated Jicaque tribe, my exploration of their history (from von Hagen's ethnography of the tribe) indicates that by the mid-1800s, they had been settled into larger villages and towns of the region, and only fled to the remote mountains when the governor of the province (of Yoro) essentially enslaved them for his own purposes, and the European diseases of those settlements wiped out most of them. So, those Jicaque that von Hagen "discovered" had already become well acquainted with Western civilization, and wisely disappeared into the high mountains, in order to survive. It's not at all clear if the tobacco the Jicaque were growing during von Hagan's visit in 1937 was from a virgin source, or simply what was growing around the towns from which they fled.

Bob
 

hooyoo

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What a wonderful piece of research you've compiled. This is slightly tangential, and in a very different part of South America but I just came across this accession collected in Brazil in 1984: https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/accessiondetail?id=1381288

From Boa Vista, according to the records "grown by Indians." Does this tobacco look similar to anything you've seen? I think it would be interesting to find out if this is an old indigenous landrace, or a more recent introduction.




 
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