Willow Haven

Topics for the day about nature and navigating this dynamic world

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Bellingham, Pacific Northwest of Washington State, United States
Celebrating mid 7th decade, enjoying life and sharing my experiences with my friends. I'm a native plant farmer who spends his recreation time collecting seeds in the wilds with constant awe of biological diversity. My educational background is from agriculture universities and study of bugs, fungi and ecology. I taught for a while at university,then went to work for a nonprofit aid organization in resource analysis and program development with tribes in North America. Then at one point in the mid 80's I went back to farming, this time native plants for environmental restoration. It has been great during this period, back to my roots and a joining of all my experiences. This career gave me the economic freedom to extend my knowledge to help others to become self sufficient as I have strived to accomplish after all these years.

Monday, June 24, 2013

By Richard Haard, Propagator, Fourth Corner Nurseries

From Merriam-Webster….. (Anthropogenic : of, relating to, or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature)

Here in the lower 48 states it is difficult to find a tract that has not been influenced by the hand or man or by livestock. Plant communities containing natural vegetation are either obliterated or contaminated with escaped ornamentals or by seeds of weeds and exotic grasses borne by hay fed animals, farming activities or worse.

In some places though, as the high forest country or the remote north of Alaska, where wilderness surrounds civilization, these exotics are absent and we can see the countryside with it’s natural endowment. An interesting angle on these thoughts is to come across modifications to the natural landscape we inherited from our original peoples, who have lived here for as long as 12,000 years.

My friend, Rupert Wilson, resides a native village located about 350 miles north of Vancouver, B.C., Canada tells me about historical evidence for continuous occupation of his village at Bear Cove for 9000 years, likely longer. For thousands of years, the Kwakwaka'wakw (pronounced "kwa kwa ka wak") people have lived on northern part of Vancouver Island, the adjacent mainland coast and the islands between. When the Europeans brought iron tools, firearms and other European goods, they also brought diseases, like the measles, influenza, tuberculosis, venereal disease and small pox. To these First Nations people, with no immunity to European diseases, the consequences were devastating. Two thirds of the population was wiped out within a relatively short period of time. (http://www.firstnations.eu/fisheries/kwakwakawakw.htm)

During the epidemics of the late 1700’s, entire villages were depopulated. At some places settlers came in to live on land that was already cleared from the dense spruce and cedar forest. Now an occasional shoreline kitchen middens tell their own story that every shell in a 10 foot or deeper shoreline bank smacked the lips of a human. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midden)

My own adventure on this topic began with a field trip last year to a grassy islete near my friend’s village. Here we found an abundant population of a lily family species, Fritillaria camschatscensis, riceroot, a native of the southeastern Russian coast. This species is similar to our own Fritillaria affinis and is sometimes intermixed as we move south into Oregon. The bulbs produced by this plant are rich in easily digested carbohydrates, keep well, and are easily propagated by the tiny bulbils that form on the parent bulb. Early travelers harvested these bulbs and distributed them as they moved south. Perhaps these Fritillarias were moved to North America by way of Kamchatka as trade goods or with migrants long after the Bering Straits  post-glacial era migration.

Ref: Can Species of Fritillaria and Allium Serve as Guideposts to Human Migration?

The common Camassia quamash, and C. leichtleinii occurring across western North America are not found in this northern place but are dominant only 300 miles south. Other useful plants with edible or medicinal value are found in the same places such a Allium cernuum, Fragaria spp and Lomatium species.

My adventure this year has been to travel by boat and survey the islands of the Broughton Archipelago, a cluster of islands just south of the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound. Traveling in a small boat we intended to camp on beaches but the terrain on these islets and islands is so extremely rocky and densely forested is almost impossible to find a place to spread out a tent and cook a meal. Even the tiny rocky islets that were poking out of the water were thickly forested most often to the high tide line.

Prior to my visit to these remote, largely uninhabited islands I envisioned finding the grassy islets that are common in the San Juan Archipelago, near my home in Washington State. Here in Broughton however we cruised for 2 days in the northern portion not to find a single islete without dense forest. Finally, we took our search further south and near some village sites. There they were, and just as kitchen middens are evidence for hand of man in the distant past these islets and former grocery and medicine sources cultivated by natives. First, we found an islete with Allium cernuum and Fritillaria affinis. Then within easy distance of a historical native settlement an islete so dense with F. camschatscensis one could not help to walk over them.

Our visit this time was in mid-June and this gave us opportunity to verify identity of seed pods we collected the year before at Rupert’s islete. Finding only two islets indicated these are not common plants and preservation of the species is important for future generations.

There is a movement among many native groups including the Kwakwaka'wakw people to reintroduce natural foods such as this riceroot (Lhásem in the Squamish Nation language) as a means to improve their diet and fight adult onset diabetes. In this following story a University of Victoria, Leigh Joseph,  graduate student of ethnobotanist Dr. Nancy Turner is cultivating riceroot in traditional locations then showing native people how to reinvent or revive their former, healthier diets. (http://www.indigenousreporting.com/2012/story-1/ )

 It was heartening to learn for myself that this species of Fritillaria still resides in  natural populations of the remote British Columbia coast. Further south near Bellingham I’ve collected seed and propagated over many years the common Camas. Some friends from our local coast Salish Tribe, Lummi, would visit our farm to harvest Camas bulbs with traditional digging sticks. I told these friends I collected seed for propagating for these bulbs from an islete that their ancestors cultivated long ago. This was about 10 years ago and this spring when visiting this site again to replenish my seed supply the islete is back into cultivation. Vast sections or the islete were harvested then replenished with young bulbs exhibiting very good wildcrafting technique. Even though seed collecting is a bit more difficult I was happy to witness this reinvention of their native sustainable agriculture.

“Fritillaria appears to have originated in eastern Asia, and migrated through China, Japan, the Kuril Islands, and Kamchatka, to the Pacific Northwest, thence inland to Nebraska and south to San Diego. One species, F. camschatcensis, ranges from extreme southeastern Russia to Oregon. In Eurasia Fritillaria localities are typically along the multiple routes of the ancient “Silk Road.”

Gordon Gastil (  ) attempted to correlate the modern ranges of Fritillaria with travel of ancient people. Fritillaria and Allium bulbs are prized to this day by the native people of the Pacific Northwest as food, spice, and medicine. The dried bulbs were useful energy food on long trips across ice or water. He suggests these bulbs may have been carried by travelers on ancient routes of travel or migration.

Now with detained DNA analysis (  ) we realize the early peopling of the new world also came by way of Asian coasts and the islands including Kamchatka not solely the Bering Strait.
The image links can be live in the web article possibly also as a slide show with notations in a link from the printed version

Can Species of Fritillaria and Allium Serve as Guideposts to Human Migration? R. Gordon Gastil  http://ssrn.com/abstract=1564426

Below….Images and notes for cross reference in the article. All can be in web issue select from these for print issue:
A shell midden at Echo Bay, British Columbia
Echo Bay, British Columbia, a remote settlement showing signs of  former original people settlement
Fritillaria camschatcensis, Riceroot, Bulbs, offsets and seed pods. Collected in natural habitat at Northern end of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Broughton Archipelago, remote islets. Most islets in this area are fully forested. Perennials and grasses are rare here
Broughton Archipelago, typical shoreline view at an inlet on Henrietta Island
Broughton Archipelago, another anthropogenic habitat. Some islets especially near former or current native villages show this 'prairie’ vegetation with many plants of medicinal or medical value
Broughton Archipelago, plants associated in anthropogenic sites, Allium cernuum, Fritillaria affinis, Fragaria chiloensis
Broughton Archipelago, Fritillaria camschatscensis growing on a rocky islete
Broughton Archipelago, Fritillaria camschatscensis in bloom
Broughton Archipelago, A remote village/residence along Gilford Island
Island near north Vancouver Island, BC Canada. East side Wonderful wildflower habitat, Good example of anthropogenic influence on local vegetation
http://flic.kr/p/cVMHuj and collecting riceroot seed here for propagation http://flic.kr/p/cVMEJC
Greater Camas, Camassia leichtleinii ssp suksdorfii in natural habitat. With evidence of recent harvest and careful cultivation.
Camassia leichtleinii ssp suksdorfii in cultivation at Fourth Corner Nurseries