Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month

Native Trees and Resources

11/15/2023 | Marina Montez-Ellis, Garden Program Specialist


As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we focus on the native trees and their resources used by Native Americans.

Liriodendron tulipfera also known as Tulip tree, canoewood or yellow-poplar is one of the tallest trees in North America. This was one of the reasons that the Cherokee used them to make dugout canoes. A group of men would find a tree near the water and fell it by making a mud and clay fire at the base. Once on the ground, the bark and limbs removed, small fires were used to burn the wood, and an adze used to hollow out the canoe. The builders slathered bear fat on the outside of the canoe for waterproofing the vessel. These dugout canoes could be 40 feet in length to provide room for 20 men.

Maclura pomifera also known as Osage Orange, Hedge Apple or Bodark was used by the Osage tribe for bows, arrows, tomahawk handles and war clubs. The fiber was used as rope and the tannins for leather. The root was used as a light orange dye and also a tea for eye sores.

The wood was oak-hard and dense. It was durable, flexible and highly prized by many tribes. The Osage bow was traded as far as Montana and Ohio by the Shawnee, Comanche, Pawnee and the Blackfoot. Its original habitat ranged from the Arkansas bottomlands to southern Oklahoma and eastern Texas, but now has naturalized in many states.

The Kentucky Coffeetree or Gymnocladus dioica was used by the Omaha tribe for medicinal purposes. The pulp was administered for fever, headaches and as a laxative. The root was used for kidney failure and the root covering for hemorrhaging in childbirth or nosebleeds.

A dice and bowl game or Paquessen, was made from the seeds. Painted or scarified beans or dice were used to reach a high score when rolled from the basket onto an animal hide playing area. There are many variations of this game from different communities where the game could last for days. Various seeds, pits and bones were used depending on the resources at hand.