Abstract

On the eve of the twentieth century, plant explorers from the United States such as Neils E. Hansen traveled to Russian Central Asia in search of new cold-hardy and drought-resistant alfalfa varieties. Hansen’s travels and the work of other alfalfa boosters would help create an alfalfa boom on the American plains, especially in northern regions like South Dakota where Hansen worked. However, the effects of the growth of alfalfa were not limited to the Dakotas; they were also connected to and influenced another boom in the American Southwest. Moreover, in order to plant new acreages in alfalfa, huge amounts of seed were imported from Russian Central Asia, especially from the region of Khiva. This article tells the story of how alfalfa connected these diverse regions, while also analyzing how a complex mix of technologies, expertise, colonialism, and ideas about the environment led to contingent and surprising outcomes in all three regions.

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