Mark Dunham, Natural Resources Specialist, and Pat Gwin, Director of the Cherokee Nation Natural Resources Department, began a seed exchange five years ago, with the thought of preserving the seeds that Cherokees historically grew in their gardens.
|Prairie Willow, Salix Humulus|
Dunham said, “All four varieties of the flour and ceremonial corn we have grow 14-feet tall. You have to bend the stalk down to pick the one or two ears of corn on top.”
The Minneapolis American Indian Center sent Gwin and Dunham exactly nine native tobacco seeds that they then grew at the Cherokee Nation Center in Tahlequah. Now they have a supply large enough to share.
Cherokee plant rescuers Tony and Karra Harris of Atlanta, recently donated plants used by Cherokees for medicine, food, weapons and hunting. They are now in the Cherokee Nation garden that Gwin and Dunham are developing.
Each year since the seed exchange began, the Cherokee Nation Natural Resources Department has distributed over 7,000 packs of seeds to Cherokees and to educational institutions and programs.
Although the seeds are free to Cherokee gardeners and educational programs, everyone who receives seeds is asked to contribute seeds back to the seed bank if they have a successful crop.
Several plant varieties will be available upon request for the 2012 growing season but not beans and squash. Last year’s extreme weather prevented a good enough seed crop from being grown.
“The heat and drought really cut our inventory and prevented us from replenishing our seed bank with certain varieties,” said Dunham. “Fortunately, some seeds were sent to us from other Cherokees, allowing us to still be able to have seeds to give away.”
Dunham said they have jewel gourd seeds this year, though. Jewel Gourds mature at 2-3 inches in diameter and were probably worn ornamentally by Cherokees. An advantage to growing jewel gourds is that the plants are relatively small compared to basket gourd plants.
“You see designs sometimes that show people wearing jewel gourds on old eastern woodlands pottery,” Dunham said.
For more information about the seed exchange, go to the Natural Resources Department webpage at www.cherokee.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cherokees and educational institutions may request two seed varieties. Include your name, a copy of your Cherokee Nation citizenship card (blue card) or program name, mailing address, and if requesting tobacco seeds, proof that you are over 18.
Corn (Cherokee White Eagle, Cherokee Colored/Yellow/White Flour)
Popcorn (Red, Bronze, Colored, Green)
Gourds (Basket, Dipper, Jewel, Jewelry and Buffalo)
Native Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica)
If you do not qualify to get seeds from the Cherokee nation, go to http://www.nativeseeds.org.
|A stand of native River Cane, Arundinaria gigantea, at the Cherokee Nation garden in Tahlequah|