KEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule, a species with deep cultural, medicinal & nutritional significance to Salish communities

2018 September 24 Tsawout KEXMN P9240014 photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

KEXMIN [SENĆOŦEN with the ‘K’ underlined], Lomatium nudicaule, just south of the reserve line set (under severe threat of imperial violence) for the W̱SÁNEĆ, north of Island View Beach, Saanich, Vancouver Island

2018 September 24 Tsawout KEXMN P9240083 photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
2018 September 24 Tsawout KEXMN P9240017 photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
2018 September 24 Tsawout KEXMN P9240028 photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

 

This population is highly vulnerable to ongoing sea level rise and saltwater intrusion into roots.

A Garry oak, Quercus garryana, woodland as a Salish cultural landscape

2018 Sept 24 Garry oak Belly-Rising, Tsawout Indian Reserve, Saanichton P9240116 photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

This Garry oak woodland is on top of small knoll above the beach and has been referred to in English by the Tawout as ‘Belly-Rising’ or ‘Belly-Rising-Up’. This ecosystem is  exceptional in its continuous management by Tsawout elders including the late Elsie Claxton. Diverse in harvested forbs, notably camas and chocolate lily, this oak woodland is also exceptional in the amount of lichens thriving in the crowns.

Pacific crabapple, KÁ,EW [SENĆOŦEN], tree with crows eating ripe fruit

A tree with perfectly ripe KÁ,EW [SENĆOŦEN], Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca, Tsawout. P9240152 photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
This tree has perfectly ripe KÁ,EW [SENĆOŦEN with the ‘K’ and the ‘W’ underlined], Pacific crabapples, Malus fusca, with crows eating the fruit. This tree is just south of the reserve line set (under severe threat of imperial violence) for the W̱SÁNEĆ, north of Island View Beach, Saanich, Vancouver Island. Spending different days on different trees, these crows know when the crabapples are at their peak of sugar content — with soon after they begin to desiccate, contracting and wrinkling.
This population is highly vulnerable to ongoing sea level rise and saltwater intrusion into roots.

immature fruit of coastal manroot, Marah oregana: traditionally stewarded and used by some Salish communities

2018 June 8 immature Marah oregana fruit * photogragh by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

One W̱SÁNEĆ community nearby still protects one remaining plant and the only viable population, on Salt Spring Island, is associated with a relatively old cultural landscapes called, in the nineteenth century, ‘the Old Indian Lookout’. The richness of the reliance on this wild cucumber, for medicine, has only partially been made public.

2018 June 8 immature Marah oregana fruit * photogragh by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

Salish fruit tree species of the Gulf & San Juan Islands

crabapple, Malus fusca, 2016 August 11 & 12 on the edge of the Cowichan village, Xwaaqw’um, on Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island – photograph taken jointly by Alex Grünenfelder & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Salish fruit tree species of the Gulf & San Juan Islands: Overview of ongoing research

the coastal-centred species of black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var suksdorfii / Crataegus suksdorfii, at the Cowichan village, Xwaaqw’um, Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island 2017 April 25 * photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Around the Salish Sea, there were more than six native, tree species that have been harvested and often carefully cultivated and stewarded for fruit, technology, and medicine. These orchards and respective cultivation practices span a rich set of Salish communities and languages. By ‘fruit tree’, we describe a relatively small deciduous tree that has been maintained by families and communities. With heights ranging from a meter and a half to three meters, these trees were often kept low in order to stimulate fruit production and allow for ease of picking (and more often through shaking with sticks). For some Salish fruit species, cultures and sites, orchards were maintained through planting of seed, transplanting, pruning, and light burning.

crabapple fruit, Malus fusca, 2015 October 15, north-east corner of Beaver Point & Demetri Road, Salt Spring Spring * photograph taken jointly by Alex Grünenfelder & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca

Of all of the fruit trees around the Salish Sea, this indigenous crabapple produced the most food and provided crucial amounts of carbohydrates and vitamins. Crabapples were eaten raw and preserved in water or eulachon oil in cedar boxes. And of the five, indigenous North American apples, only Malus fusca, is in the primary gene pool of the cultivated, Eurasian apple. Malus fusca grows near the coast of the North Pacific from central California to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and possibly to Hokkaido. Nancy Turner (2014: 59, 65) went as far as suggesting that this species was spread by early human migrants and consistently collected information from informants confirming that crabapple “[t]rees [were] tended pruned, lopped, and transplanted” (Turner 2014: 189).

crabapple blossoms at the Cowichan village, Xwaaqw’um, Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island 2017 May 11 * photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Perhaps more than any of the other native fruit tree species around the Salish Sea, crabapple trees were “owned” (Turner 2014: 189) often passing from mother to daughter. And in some North-West Coast indigenous cultures, Pacific crabapple was considered a particularly powerful plant central to a complex conception of transformative twigs (as in the cuttings and vegetative propagation so central to Salish horticulture) leading to magical expansions of life into entire ecosystems for human benefit (Turner 2014: 344). In turn, crabapple orchards or ‘gardens’ were often well maintained and pruned.

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chokecherry tree, Prunus virginiana, near the end of its bloom at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island 2017 April 20 * photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

This species of cherry tree is native to every province and territory in Canada. This particular cherry is relatively rare on the Pacific coast largely confined to the Salish Sea. Along the Pacific coast, from Salt Spring Island southward, this species is associated with better-watered sites in Garry oak woodlands and savannahs with this species, though perhaps a different subspecies, reappearing again near marine shorelines in Mendocino County, California.

edible drupe of chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, west of the historic Catholic Church above Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island 2016 August 9 – 11 * photograph taken jointly by Alex Grünenfelder & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

This, the most bountiful of the cherries of north-western North America, has close Eurasian relatives extending to Western Europe. Around the Salish Sea, chokecherry were widely harvested, traded (Turner 2014: 124), and tended (Turner 2014: 189). Chokecherry bark was a crucial ingredient in a number of medicinal decoctions (Turner 2014: 437). Distinct varieties of this species were recognized by some Salish communities. So far, the specimens recorded around the Salish Sea have been consistent with the North-West Coast subspecies, Prunus virginiana ssp. demissa.

bark with woodpecker holes of a very old and tall (>40 feet) chokecherry tree, Prunus virginiana, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island 2018 February 19 * This exceptionally old tree was probably cultural modified a century ago: today with signs of classic Salish lopping to grow horizontally for more fruit production and easier harvesting.

 

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blossoms of bitter cherry, Prunus emarginata, along Beaver Point Road north of South Ridge Drive, 2017 May 7 * photograph taken jointly by Alex Grünenfelder & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Bitter cherry, Prunus emarginata

“The fruit of this ‘bitter cherry’ tree was not widely harvested but its wood was prized for knife handles and its bark was crucial for basket weaving” (Turner 2014: 124).

bitter cherry, Prunus emarginata, Beaver Point Road north of South Ridge Road 2017 May 6 photograph taken jointly by Alex Grünenfelder & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

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fruit that ripened last August of black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var. douglasii, near 2100 Fulford-Ganges Road on the east side just south of Furness Road, Salt Spring Island 2017 May 5 * photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Two species of black hawthorn

On the Gulf and San Juan Islands and other areas around the Salish Sea, there are two distinct species of black hawthorn:

buds a week before blossoming of black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var. douglasii, near 2100 Fulford-Ganges Road on the east side just south of Furness Road, Salt Spring Island 2017 May 5 * photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Crataegus douglasii var. douglasii

and

blossoms of black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var suksdorfii, at the Cowichan village, Xwaaqw’um, Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island 2017 April 25 * photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Crataegus douglasii var. suksdorfii that is often considered a separate species in the United States as, Crataegus suksdorfii.  

Indigenous communities around the Salish Sea harvested the fruit and stewarded the two species of black hawthorn (Turner 2014: 272). “The dry sweetish fruits were eaten by the Island Salish groups, usually in the early fall. The Songhees ate them with salmon roe (Boas, 1890).[Turner & Bell]”

Crataegus douglasii var. douglasii is often more associated with the mainland and interior of British Columbia, and occurs more often as a large shrub with some tree forms on the Gulf Islands. In contrast, the island subspecies or species of Black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var. suksdorfii (with a distribution more centred on the coast extending to Alaska), is more often in a taller, tree form.

The label Crataegus douglasii var. suksdorfii in Canada corresponds to a species identified in the United States including for the San Juan Islands as Crataegus suksdorfii differentiated from the interior-centred black hawthorn, as a distinct species, because “It is diploid versus tetraploid for Crataegus douglasii.” As well as subtle but consistent differences in the leaves of these two species, a simple differentiation can be made by examining the centre of a blossom. The flowers of “Variation douglasii” nearly always have 10 stamens with ovaries that are more often hairy whereas the flowers of “Variation suksdorfii” have 20 stamens and the ovaries are usually smooth.

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catkins of the one species of native hazelnut, Corylus cornuta (closely related and often almost identified as the same as the Eurasian species that stretch to north-western Spain), soon after initial unfurling, 2018 January 26, on Salt Spring Island’s Beaver Point Road. The parts of this early phase of the catkin is largely ‘male’ with the female reproductive organs taking a few more weeks to mature such that pollination can begin.

California hazelnut, Corylus cornuta

California hazelnut occur near the West Coast of North America from California to Alaska and are closely related to Eurasian hazelnut species that occur as far west as north-western Spain. Within the populations on the North-West Coast of North America, there were two subspecies. The involucral ‘beaks’ attached to the nuts of Corylus cornuta var. cornuta are twice as long as the actual fruit / nut. In contrast, Corylus cornuta var. california fruit has beaks that are half that length and roughly the diameter of the sometimes  larger fruit (that might be the result of indigenous domestication, stewardship, and ecosystem management). 

Hazelnut was transplanted on the BC coast (Turner 2014: 203 – 204) and groves were sometimes managed through burning (Turner 2014: 198). Hazelnut were sometimes transplanted (Turner 2014: 365). There are records of historical orchards in northern areas such as the lower Skeena Valley that well into the twentieth century were defended by First Nations who asserted dietary dependence, ownership and stewardship. Around the Salish Sea, records of significant groves are for sites near indigenous settlements and historical population centres. On the Gulf Islands, a significant record of ‘wild hazelnut’ was around Beaver Point Hall on Salt Spring Island just above the Tsawout / mixed Saanich and Cowichan village on the island’s south-east shore.

The same hazelnut (Corylus cf cornuta) clump and catkins, on Salt Spring Island, weeks later on 2018 February 18.

“Taxonomic Key to Corylus
native, north-western North America
1. Twigs sparsely to moderately hairy, sometimes slightly glandular; silicles completely enclosed by bristly bractlets…………………C. cornuta

Eurasian and where volunteering in North America, a cultivar
1. Twigs both hairy and glandular, silicles not completely enclosed by the thinly downy, lacerated bractlets……………………………C. avellana”

And on areas such as the Gulf and San Juan Islands, there is some evidence of hybridization between the Eurasian cultivar and native hazelnut.

Of the native species, C. cornuta,

Two varieties occur in BC:

1. Involucral beaks about twice as long as the fruit; silicles thinly short-hairy; twigs sparsely hairy…………… var. cornuta

1. Involucral beaks about equal in length to the fruit; silicles glabrous; twigs hairy, sometimes glandular…………… var. californica (A. DC.) Sharp”
http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Corylus%20cornuta%20var.%20californica

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Along with chokecherry, two other species are common in many interior regions of British Columbia and further east in Canada, and are thought to have been more common around the Salish Sea before 5,000 b.p.

blossoms of Saskatoon berry, Amelanchier alnifolia, at the Cowichan village, Xwaaqw’um, Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island 2017 April 25 * photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Saskatoon berry, Amelanchier alnifolia was transplanted by some First Nations in the region (Turner 203 – 204) as late as the early 20th Century.

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Soapberry, Shepherdia canadensis is thought to have been more common on the Coast and more important dietarily than it is now (Turner 2014: 140 – 144). Along the coast and in the interior, soapberry patches were “maintained by landscape burning, bushes pruned, berries scattered” and “occasionally transplanted” (Turner 2014: 191)

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hybridization & introgression of Eurasian cultivars and Salish species (in the same gene pools)

This curious apple tree is in the forest in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, in the Hwmet’utsun conservation area on the west coast of Salt Spring Island and was blooming on May 3, 2018. The tree is between a half century and a century old and may have been planted as part of a failed attempted a homesteading. Or the tree, similar to some other volunteer apple trees on Salt Salt Spring Island associated with the last 19th Century, may well be the product of introgression between colonial cultivars and the native, Pacific crabapple. What is certain is that the pollen from such ‘forest apples, with more phenotypic characteristics of Malus pumila than those of Malus fusca, are producing pollen that is entering the gene pool of Malus fusca. A fruit tree, like this one, that can cope with the kind of shade in this woodland could adapt to darker sites between buildings in urban areas. photography by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

All of the Salish fruit tree species, aside from Saskatoon berry and soapberry, are part of circumpolar gene pools with millennia of relationships with human beings and domestication processes — on both sides of Beringia. But there are some distinct differences between each side of the North Pacific. Nearly all of the petals of the Eurasian domesticates are one and a half to twice the size of the North American species. Another general difference between ‘wild’, traditionally stewarded, and indigenous, North American and domesticated and Eurasian, primarily north-western Europe, sides of those gene pools is this simple dichotomy:

aside from the Island species of black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var. suksdorfii / Crataegus suksdorfii, which blossoms simultaneously with slow leafing, the North American native fruit trees nearly always leaf-out a week or two BEFORE blossoming

while

the Eurasian domesticates nearly always produce blossoms before they leaf out.

This curious apple tree is in the forest in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, in the Hwmet’utsun conservation area on the west coast of Salt Spring Island and was blooming on May 3, 2018. The tree is between a half century and a century old and may have been planted as part of a failed attempted a homesteading. Or the tree, similar to some other volunteer apple trees on Salt Salt Spring Island associated with the last 19th Century, may well be the product of introgression between colonial cultivars and the native, Pacific crabapple. What is certain is that the pollen from such ‘forest apples, with more phenotypic characteristics of Malus pumila than those of Malus fusca, are producing pollen that is entering the gene pool of Malus fusca. A fruit tree, like this one, that can cope with the kind of shade in this woodland could adapt to darker sites between buildings in urban areas. photography by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

And on the Gulf Islands there are circumpolar hybrids where blossoming and leafing are more simultaneous such as a probable,

hybrid of native bitter cherry, Prunus emarginata, and introduced, north-western European blackthorn or sloe, Prunus spinosa, that began to reproduce without cultivation starting in the twentieth century on Salt Spring Island [today seen on the west side of Reynolds Road north of Weston Creek], where blossoms and fruit begin with a double cluster several inches from the end of each branch like bitter cherry, with petals large like a European domesticate, and blossoming and leafing relatively simultaneous.

This volunteer crabapple, cf Malus fusca but possibly Malus fusca x pumila, along Burgoyne Bay Road near the provincial park, is in an area of spontaneous reproduction of cultivated colonial era, volunteer, and ‘wild’ (as in Salish, Malus fusca) apple trees. photography by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

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The Turner 2014 references above refer to the most definitive survey, so far, of indigenous tree crops in British Columbia:

Nancy J. Turner. 2014. Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America. Volume Two – The Place and Meaning of Plants in Indigenous Cultures and Worldviews. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Volume One is also crucial for understanding the human relationships with these species of fruit trees.

We are fortunate to have in publication the fruits of the traditional knowledge of W̱SÁNEĆ elders, Elsie Claxton, Dave Elliot Senior, Chief Christopher Paul, and Violet Paul published as, Nancy J. Turner and Richard J. Hebda (editors). 2012. Saanich Ethnobotany: Culturally Imporant Plants of theW̱SÁNEĆ People. (Victoria, BC: Royal British Columbia Museum). The information at KEXMIN field station reflects such key publications as these  along with mentoring by Chief Paul (1893 – 1972), studies of the Belly-Rising-Up cultural site that for many decades was stewarded by Elsie Claxton, and field studies in recent decades.

crabapple blossoms at the Cowichan village, Xwaaqw’um, Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island 2017 May 11 * photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

blooming chokecherry trees, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island

blooming chokecherry trees, Hwmet’utsun 2018 May 3

One of the loveliest of the relatively uncommon groves of chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, the only tree (and fruit tree) that is native to every province and territory in Canada (and the northern half of the continental USA). While small clumps of chokecherry trees are common across Canada, they are uncommon on the BC Coast. The other part of the West Coast where this species occurs is in Mendocino Country in Northern California. This grove in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve in the Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area on Salt Spring Island, has relatively old trees, verging on more than a century, along with large fallen trees, and saplings.

The bark is the source of the medicinal in traditional cherry cough drops and the berries are good to eat (for both humans and crows). While I have seen no other large groves such as this, there are many young trees on Salt Spring Island most likely because the species is poisonous to deer which here is often in relatively high numbers because of predator suppression.

trunk of older chokecherry tree in exceptional grove in Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island 2018 May 3

This grove of chokecherries is in a landscape with archaeological sites going back well over 5,000 years and Salish (Cowichan Tribes) presence continuous until well into the 20th Century and ongoing harvesting of some food resources. The sites with the chokecherry trees have signs of historic food processing.

The lines of holes in the bark are from woodpeckers and are common for the older trees.

younger trees in exceptional West Coast grove of chokecherry, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area 2018 May 8

flowers of Pacific dogwood, kwit-xulhp [Cowichan – Island Hul’q’umi’num’], Cornus nuttallii, in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, Humet’utsun conservation area, Salt Spring Island

2018 May 3 Pacific dogwood – Hwmet’utsun – photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

 

2018 May 3 Pacific dogwood – Hwmet’utsun – photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
2018 May 3 Pacific dogwood – Hwmet’utsun – photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

edible rice-root, Fritillaria affinis, at the northern end of the Cowichan village site on Burgoyne Bay

2018 April 23 blooming of edible rice-root, Fritillaria affinis, at the northern end of the Cowichan village site on Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island

In rural-suburban interface areas, such as Salt Spring Island, populations of these rice-root are now too low for traditional Salish food harvesting.

Deciphering Salish lines on the land

2018 March 25 above W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ (elevation 80 m), Reginald Hill, Salt Spring Island

These rectangular stone enclosures, at 80 metres elevation on terraces above the village site of W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ on Salt Spring Island, suggests cultivated beds of bulbs, such as camas and chocolate lily, and carrot-like roots including KEXMIN (Lomatium nudicaule) and yampah (Perideridia gairdneri). The small size of these beds, with each less than 80 cm X 40 cm, and the lack of deep earth suggest horticultural more than funerary sites.

There are numerous other archaeological sites in nearby valleys, hills and islands that go back at least 7,000 years. W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ was occupied for millennia until residents were forcibly evicted from their own homes by the Government of Canada in 1923. The W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ village site, established as an Indian Reserve in 1873, is not currently inhabited but continues to be carefully protected and stewarded by the Tsawout First Nation of Saanichton, British Columbia.

2018 March 25 above W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ (elevation 80 m), Reginald Hill, Salt Spring Island
2018 March 25 above W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ (elevation 80 m), Reginald Hill, Salt Spring Island
2018 March 25 above W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ (elevation 80 m), Reginald Hill, Salt Spring Island

 

 

Planting KEXMIN seed, Lomatium nudicaule, in the roughgarden of the field station with the waxing of the full moon

2018 March 1 KEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule & Camassia leichtlinii seeds

Planting KEXMIN seed, Lomatium nudicaule, in the field station’s roughgarden, with the waxing of the full moon, with the small dark seeds of giant camas, Camassia leichtlinii

2018 March 1 KEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule & Camassia leichtlinii seeds
2018 March 1 KEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule montage of stripes in seeds