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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.

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Growth Type: 
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: 
July 18, 2001 to October 12, 2001June 28, 2002 to September 27, 2002August 2, 2003 to September 26, 2003August 13, 2004 to September 29, 2004July 28, 2005 to September 8, 2005July 11, 2006 to September 15, 2006July 20, 2007 to September 28, 2007July 11, 2008 to October 13, 2008July 10, 2009 to September 11, 2009June 28, 2010 to October 15, 2010August 5, 2011 to September 29, 2011July 20, 2012 to October 1, 2012July 17, 2014 to October 10, 2014July 21, 2015 to September 1, 2015July 20, 2016 to October 14, 2016August 25, 2017 to November 10, 2017July 14, 2020


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