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Sesame

Sesamum indicum

Detail of Sesame FlowerFew plants excited Jefferson's enthusiasm as much as Sesame. In 1807, he received a sample of Sesame oil and was struck by its flavor as a salad dressing as well as by the plant's success in Georgia, where it had been introduced as "Benne" by enslaved Africans. "I did not believe there existed so perfect a substitute for olive oil," he wrote not long after his first taste. Certain that it could thrive in Virginia and elsewhere in the United States, he avidly wrote to acquaintances of its virtues, sometimes enclosing seeds and sowing instructions. His own early efforts to extract oil from the tiny seeds of the Sesame plant did not meet with great success, and by 1811, after three years of trying, he had only "two or three bushels" and a "gallon of oil" to show for it. Still, he recorded sowing Sesame in seven of the following fifteen years. He generally referred to it as Benni, though he also varied the spelling as Beni, Beny, or Benney.

Growth Type: 
Annual
Color(s): 
White
Hardiness Zones: 
Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5, Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9, Zone 10
Location at Monticello: 
Vegetable Garden
Planting Conditions: 
Full Sun
Blooming History: 
2001 Jul 18 to 2001 Oct 122002 Jun 28 to 2002 Sep 272003 Aug 2 to 2003 Sep 262004 Aug 13 to 2004 Sep 292005 Jul 28 to 2005 Sep 82006 Jul 11 to 2006 Sep 152007 Jul 20 to 2007 Sep 282008 Jul 11 to 2008 Oct 132009 Jul 10 to 2009 Sep 112010 Jun 28 to 2010 Oct 152011 Aug 5 to 2011 Sep 292012 Jul 20 to 2012 Oct 12014 Jul 17 to 2014 Oct 102015 Jul 21 to 2015 Sep 12016 Jul 20
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