Plant Use by Native Peoples of the American
Southwest: Ethnographic Documentation
The purpose of this work is to summarize information from published
and unpublished ethnographies that document how Native peoples of the
American Southwest usedand, in some cases, continue to useselected
plant resources. The data contained herein have been used to suggest and
support interpretations of archaeobotanical remains recovered from sites
excavated by the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and it is our hope
that these same data will be useful to other archaeologists and ethnobotanists
studying ancient plant assemblages in the western United States.
This publication consists primarily of a large compendium (Compendium
A) that draws on an extensive database compiled by the authors and
maintained by the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. The compendium lists
the relevant ethnographic references (which correspond to expanded bibliographic
entries in the list of references cited);
it identifies the various plant taxa by both their scientific and common
names; and it describes the documented plant uses for specific ethnic
groups. We intend this compendium to serve as a summary of, and a guide
to, the extensive ethnographic literature, which we encourage the reader
to consult for additional, more-detailed information. The purpose of
this publication is not to suggest or encourage the use of any plant in
any particular manner. Although every effort has been made to accurately
summarize plant uses documented in the literature cited herein, neither
the authors nor the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center makes any claim
regarding the safety or efficacy of any usage described in this document.
We used several criteria for deciding which information to include
in the compendium. First, we were most interested in plant taxa and parts
that were represented in the archaeobotanical assemblages from sites excavated
by Crow Canyon (at the time of this writing, we were working with a taxonomic
list for sites excavated from 1983 through 1998). If the Crow Canyon taxonomic
list included identifications at the genus level (for example, Artemisia),
we included information on every species of that genus that we found in
the ethnographies. If the Crow Canyon list included a taxon identified
at the species level, we included ethnographic sources that described
uses for that particular species, when possible; if no detailed information
was available for the species, we reported data for the genus, as described
above. Second, the ethnographic reference had to be a primary source.
When the author of a particular ethnography quoted another author's work,
we made every attempt to find and include the original reference. Third,
because a given plant can be known by many common names and, conversely,
a single common name can refer to multiple very different taxa, the ethnography
had to present the scientific name for every taxon. This requirement forced
us to omit some well-known examples of ethnobotanical literature that
referred to plants by their common names only, but we did not want to
risk associating a particular use with the wrong taxon. Fourth, for an
ethnography to be included in this compendium, it had to relate to specific
groups of Native peoples living in the American Southwest, primarily in
Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and/or Utah, although the historic ranges
of some of the groups extended into adjacent states and parts of northern
Mexico. In addition, we included a very small number of Great Basin groups
(Ute, Uintah Ute, Southern Paiute, and Gosiute) whose historic ranges
also fell within the four above-named states. Ethnographies describing
plant use among Great Plains and European groups were specifically excluded
Because our goal in publishing the compendium is to aid researchers
in their interpretations of archaeobotanical remains, purely modern uses
of plantsfor example, as graze for cattle or sheepwere not
included. However, we did include plants considered adventive into North
America in historic times, when the genus also had indigenous representatives.
Examples of introduced wild plants include Amaranthus albus and Chenopodium murale; examples of introduced domesticated plants
include almond, apricot, peach, and plum, all in the genus Prunus. In such cases, we assumed that some historically introduced species might
have easily become incorporated into long-standing Native American traditions
of indigenous plant use. Including these taxa in the compendium is also
consistent with the guidelines described in paragraph 3that is,
to include information on every species of a given genus.
Consistency was a primary concern as we entered information into
the database that underlies the compendium. The scientific names of many
plants are revised over time, as more data become available and various
taxa become better understoodsometimes taxa are even assigned to
new or different genera. Because the publication and manuscript dates
of the ethnographies consulted for this project span more than a century,
it is not surprising that some of the names reported in them are no longer
current. In the genus and species fields of the database, we chose to
list the scientific names as given by the authors of the original ethnographies
(except for typographical errors, which we corrected). When we determined
that the ethnographically reported name of a particular taxon was outdated,
we provided the modern (current) name in the "Taxonomic Notes" field.
Current names are from one of three floras of reference, which are, in
order of preferred use, (1) A Utah Flora (Welsh
et al. 1987*1), (2) Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas (Correll and Johnston 1970*1), and
(3) the W-3 Tropicos database compiled by the Missouri Botanical Garden
(available on the Internet at www.mobot.org).
When we knew that a name given in an original ethnography was outdated
but could not correlate it with a modern name, we made a note to that
effect in the Taxonomic Notes field (for example, "[reference] does not
recognize this species"). For a number of taxa, the species, variety,
and/or subspecies authorities were not specified in the documentation,
and in those cases we left the data fields blank.
As mentioned earlier, a given plant can be known by many different
common names, both in common usage and in published references. For the
compendium, we decided to use the common names that appeared most often
in the ethnobotanical literature; when common names were not given in
the ethnographies, we used the common names provided by Welsh
et al. (1987*1). To facilitate database searches, we usually assigned
all the members of a given genus the same common name (for example, the
common name for both Artemisia tridentata and Artemisia filifolia is given as "sagebrush"), especially when the different species are similar
in appearance. Exceptions were made for species within a single genus
that are distinctly different in physiology and are distinguished in common
parlance, such as ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson) and pinyon
pine (Pinus edulis Engelm.). See Table 1 for a list of the common names and their associated genus names as reported
in Compendium A. Readers should keep in mind that this table, together
with the compendium, is to be used primarily as a historic resource and
should not be regarded as a comprehensive, up-to-date, or authoritative
guide to botanical nomenclature.
The plant parts used by the various ethnic groups were often, but
not always, noted in the ethnographies. When they were noted, we listed
the parts as specifically (for example, "fruit") or as generally (for
example, "aboveground plant") as the original documentation permitted.
We made every attempt to use the same part names as are used in Crow Canyon's
archaeobotanical database (found in the Analysis Data section of the research
database, available on-line at www.crowcanyon.org/researchdatabase).
When no specific part was listed in the original ethnography, we left
the data field blank.
Finally, in our attempt to present information in as consistent
a manner as possible, we standardized the ethnic-group names paired with
each described plant use. We generally refer to the groups by the specific
names used in the original documentation, although we occasionally "lumped"
groups in an effort to streamline data entry. For example, if an ethnographer
stated that all the groups in New Mexico used a plant in a certain way,
we listed the group as "New Mexico groups" rather than enter each Native
American group in New Mexico as a separate entry. We used traditional
ethnographic names to facilitate comparisons between the compendium and
the literature. So, although the people known in the ethnographies as
Pima and Papago prefer today to be called the O'Odham, we used the names
Pima and Papago in the compendium to avoid confusion. A list of the ethnic
groups whose names appear in Compendium A is provided in Table
2. The entries in this table are linked to maps (Figure
1, Figure 2,
and Figure 3) that
show village locations or approximate historic ranges of the various groups.
The descriptions of plant use provided in the compendium were paraphrased
as accurately as possible from the original ethnographies. This was a
difficult task because the original descriptions were sometimes terse,
ambiguous, and written in an archaic style. When paraphrasing proved too
difficult or risky, we presented the original text in quotation marks.
In cases in which the author of the ethnography listed the plant but did
not indicate if or how it was used, we recorded "plant recognized, but
no uses given" or "name given, but no uses given."
To further assist the reader, the many and varied individual uses
described in the compendium were also grouped into six broad "use categories."
Five of the six categoriesfood, fuel, construction, medicine, and
ritualcorrespond to topics of general interest to anthropologists,
ethnographers, ethnobotanists, and archaeologists. The sixth category"other"by
definition includes a very wide range of uses that cannot be neatly categorized
as one of the foregoing, and the reader is encouraged to not overlook
this group. Further, because it was sometimes difficult for us to distinguish
between medicinal and ritual use, anyone interested in one of these categories
should also consider plant uses assigned to the other.
The database underlying Compendium A was developed in ACCESS 97,
a program of Microsoft Office 97. The data fields, which correspond to
the column heads in the compendium, are explained in detail in a separate,
linked list. Users of the compendium
can sort and reorder the information by the following data categories:
ethnic group, genus, species, common name, plant part, use category, and
Click on the title below to access the compendium:
Compendium A. Ethnographically Documented
Uses of Plants
1The W-3 Tropicos database is subject to continual revision
and may have been updated since we last consulted it in conjunction with
this project in August 2000.
This publication would not have been possible without the support of many
people and institutions. The Arizona State Museum, Arizona State University
Archives, Arizona State University Labriola Center, and Eugene Gaffney
provided access to rare and difficult-to-find publications. Scott Ortman,
Louise Schmidlap, and Lee Gripp provided much-welcomed technical advice
and assistance, and Mary Etzkorn provided editorial support. Computing
facilities, programs, and assistance were provided by the Crow Canyon
Archaeological Center, Michael A. Kolb, and R. Lee Rainey.
Karen R. Adams (Ph.D., University of Arizona,
1988) is an independent consultant in archaeobotany with more than 30
years of experience in the American Southwest and northern Mexico.
Katharine D. Rainey (M.A., Arizona State University,
2001) was an environmental archaeology intern at the Crow Canyon Archaeological
Center and currently is an independent archaeobotanical consultant.
To cite this publication:
Rainey, Katharine D., and Karen R. Adams
2004 Plant Use by Native Peoples of the American Southwest: Ethnographic
Documentation [HTML Title]. Available: http://www.crowcanyon.org/plantuses.
Date of use: day month year.*
*Example: Date of use: 26 November 2004.