For millennia people have been planting and cultivating native plants that grow wild around them for food, medicine, ceremonial or ornamental purposes. In the Klamath-Siskiyou region indigenous people — the Karuk and Takelma, for example — historically cultivated native coyote tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) and Indian tobacco (Nicotiana quadravalis) for smoking according to tribal customs. This tradition still lives on in some places.
In M. Kat Anderson’s pivotal book, Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources, she explains how other plants were either deliberately planted, transplanted, or otherwise encouraged for better growth or a more convenient harvesting location by Indians, namely near village sites. These include, but are not limited to, Hind’s walnut (Juglans californica var. hindsii), hazelnut (Corylus cornuta var. californica), oak species, such as the preferred black oak (Quercus kelloggii) or tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus), and many bulbs, tubers, or corms, such as camas (Camassia quamash and Camassia leichtlinii), yampah (Perideridia spp.), mariposa lilies (Calochortus spp.), lomatium (Lomatium spp.), and brodieaeas (Brodiaea, Dichelotstemma, and Triteleia spp.), to name but a few.
As modern humans living in this same, yet altered landscape, we can continue this relationship to native plants that surround us in the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion. We may not be harvesting camas to eat it anymore — although some still do — but we can plant camas and other native bulbs to add to the ecological diversity of our own backyards, landscaping and homesteads to provide beauty for ourselves, and habitat for the wild critters that still depend on native plants to thrive.
While the modern nursery industry is hell-bent on developing the next, newer, and supposedly better cultivated strains to keep commercializing and patenting plants for commercial production, the option of sticking to native, localized plant genetics — unaltered by the manipulation of industry — remains for plant enthusiasts who want to encourage a healthy and vibrant native ecosystem. We can all do our part to keep native plant populations alive and well by growing natives. Grow Native, Grow Wild!