Category Archives: Native Americans

Hardy Perennial Plant Suggestions for your Acreage or Small Farm

There is a very remarkable nursery in Northeastern Nebraska, near the farm where I grew up, called HH Wild Plums Inc. It was founded by the famous (but not as famous as he should be) horticulturalist plant finder, Harlan Hamernik. He passed away tragically in 2012, and I wrote up a brief tribute to him here.

Though Hamernik introduced many new plants to the gardeners across the U.S. over his lifetime, he focused in his later years on neutraceuticals, or, healthy edibles and medicinals, some of which were used by Native Plains Indians. Especially, this interest was from those sources which were in the form of perennials, shrubs, and trees – something the Midwest is not known for in our current day and age, but were key to the health of the nomadic tribes which preceded us.

Today, I interviewed Tammy Melcher of “HH Wild Plums” to get an update on this nursery which was founded by Harlan Hamernik for the purpose of promoting sales and the popularity of these hardy edible plants which he studied and discovered. She and plant propagator-grower, Lori Pfeifer, are instrumental in their small operation.

My impression of Harlan from personal experience, was that he was an incredibly intuitive plantsman, so readers, pay attention.

First, I asked Tammy to list five plants and a couple of trees that she would recommend to farmers/landowners who would like to incorporate edible or medicinal perennials into their farm, either as a hobby, or as a value-added crop or food product. Note that this list works in Nebraska, but most of these plants are extremely hardy and would grow well in much of the U.S., especially the Midwest and Upper Midwest.

Here is her list:
1. Aronia (8-10′ shrub)
2. Crandall’s Clove Currant (6×6′ shrub)
3. Redleaf Rose (7×7′ shrub)
4. Elderberry (7×7′ shrub)
5. Serviceberry (10×10′ shrub)
6. Tree: American Hazelnut (18′ tall)
7. Tree: Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (10-15′ tall)

There was no doubt that Tammy was most enthused about the Aronia plant which produces the common named “chokeberry”. She’d just returned from an Aronia conference in Omaha, and the awareness of this plant is catching on a bit, but, she said, “ninety percent of the public doesn’t know about it.” In general, the dark blue, purple and black berries contain high levels of antioxidants, making them superberries, or superfoods. We all know that blueberries are a superfood, but, according to Tammy, the Aronia berry contains three times the amount of antioxidants that blueberries do. (Note there is a current question about the benefits of antioxidants in this past year’s news and studies.) Indians used these berries as an ingredient in Pemmican. High tannin levels make these berries tart, thus the name “chokeberry”. The bright side of this is that birds tend to leave them alone, as opposed to other berries which you need to cover with netting, or pick before the birds do.

Incidentally, Tammy was not aware of sending Aronia plants to Colorado, and thought they would do very well here on the front range, so Colorado readers take note.

Three varieties of Aronia which Tammy recommends are Black Aronias: Aronia melanocarpa ‘Galicjanka’; Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’; and, Aronia melanocarpa ‘McKenzie’. ‘Galicjanka’ is a cultivar from Poland which tolerates drier soil conditions; ‘Viking’ is from Scandinavia and produces very large fruits; and, ‘McKenzie’ was produced at North Dakota State which has extra-large berries, and is drought and cold tolerant. These shrubs need chill hours so don’t grow in the South. They are drought tolerant once established, and they produce beautiful fall color.

Aronia berries are used in smoothies, salsas, jellies, breads and muffins, and for wine. A supplement form is available which uses a powder to create an extract. A company in Omaha, named “Superberries” owned by Kenny Sailors, uses Aronia berries to make products such as gummy chews, frozen berries, and concentrate. Also, according to Tammy, the Black Squirrel Winery in Council Bluffs, Iowa, makes a great wine using Aronia berries.

The next shrub on Tammy’s list is Crandall’s Clove Currant, or Ribes odoratum ‘Crandall’. This shrub also produces a black medicinal berry which is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. This grows in rich well-drained clay soil to plant hardiness zone 4.

The Redleaf rose is a beautiful hardy shrub rose producing a hip rich in Vitamin C. I have personally grown this in my yard and love the iridescent blue-green sheen to its leaves. If you grow it, as an added bonus you will occasionally have a volunteer pop up in your yard. Also, Rosa Pomifera, or the apple rose, is a good hardy choice which produces good fruit. One can make tea from the rose hips of either plant.

Elderberries, or Sambucus species, are another hardy shrub which produces a black berry that is high in Vitamin C and antioxidants. These grew wild when I was a child and I used to help my grandmother pick them to make jelly. I’ve personally picked them from road ditches to make a pretty darn good pie, if you don’t mind the seeds. Even better, you can make a combination berry pie such as elderberry-cherry. Elderberries grow across the U.S., but are less drought-tolerant.

The Serviceberry, or Amelanchier canadensis, produces large black berries that are loved by both humans and birds. They make delicious jams and pies. A good variety is alnifolia ‘Parkhill’ which is a dwarf.

Next, the two trees on Tammy’s list.

The American Hazlenut is formally named Corylus Americana. It is a small tree which produces an edible nut. It likes afternoon shade and requires two trees for nut production.

The Dwarf Chinkapin Oak is a great native shrub oak. By 3-4 years of age, it produces a nut which is valued by wildlife. These nut producers are about 15-18 feet tall, but can be trained shorter. Hamernik would collect this tree’s seeds from the wild, as is true of many of the plants which Wild Plums sells.

HH Wild Plums Inc. has a great catalogue online plus, they will be happy to send you a nice spiral bound hardcopy, such as the one I have lying next to my computer as I type this. There are many, many more varieties of trees and shrubs, along with unusual varieties of perennials, annuals, and vines available from their nursery.

If you have a favorite hardy native edible, please let us know about it in the comments.

Photo credit: Purple Aronia berries, by Konjica.

Taos Pueblo

The magical land of the painted sky. Crossing the border from Colorado into New Mexico feels like going back in time.

I took the above photo outside of the Robert Mirabal shop at Taos Pueblo because it was the only corn that I saw there. Mirabal, a writer, farmer, and musician, along with partner Nelson Zink, write the fascinating blog Tiwa Farms Journal. Their blog byline is, “What does the Corn Dance mean without corn? Encouraging Puebloan Agriculture at Taos Pueblo”. I bought Mirabal’s book, “Running Alone” in his shop but it wasn’t until I got home that I figured out the connection to his blog site which I’d already been following.

To Grandpa and his uncles, those days were amazing times to be alive. They saw the beginning of the end unfolding in front of them like falling stars.—from Running Alone by Robert Mirabal

Doors in front of the Taos Pueblo’s dwellings have been added in recent years as the traditional entry was a hole accessed by a ladder on the roof.

The Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been inhabited for about a thousand years and currently houses 150 Tiwa people in multi-level adobe dwellings. There is no electricity or running water. These historically agrarian and secretive people are experiencing many cultural tugs between progress, technology, and the preservation of their native language and traditions. They have abandoned their farm fields.

Our 30-something female tour guide told us how she, as a child, carried water buckets from the river daily, to help out her family. It was her job which she did gladly. She never despised it. She also described the enjoyment of spending her teen years in nature with her friends as they learned to identify plants and forage foods from those older than they.

The Northern Tiwa people were compared to the Cheyenne tribe in appearance by photographer Edward Curtis. Most wish not to have their photo taken, which is unfortunate, because they can be stunningly attractive.

Photo: Univ. of Indiana ~ Wanamaker Collection
Pablo Suaso – Taos Pueblo – 1913

A shop owner told me that she is president of the Red Willow Farmers Market which is located just outside of the pueblo. She works with youth, teaching them to grow food which they then sell at this market. She would be dancing the corn dance the following day.

The pueblo allows visitors to its grounds and many shops during the day but no one is allowed beyond the designated areas. The highlight for me was meeting each shop owner, seeing each one’s unique artistic creations, and seeing the interiors of their energy efficient dwellings which had, in most cases, been lived in by their ancestors. In conversation, I experienced first hand a startling innate intuitiveness of this people and I learned that it is special to converse with people who have an oral tradition culture. It worries me that our society’s texting teenagers are missing out on a similar story-telling experience which serves as the glue that holds these families together.

I watched and admired the skill of a pueblo mother as she convincingly explained to a small group of 10-12 year-olds why they still needed afternoon naps. In return, this pre-adolescent age group was entirely respectful to her.

And I witnessed tribe tourism workers gratefully sharing a gift of red jello in plastic cups with each other during the hot mid-day.

Below, see a cafe which serves fry bread and heats water the old fashioned way.

The outdoor adobe ovens used by the Tiwa are called hornos, the dome-shaped structure below.

One cannot try to give you an impression of what it is like to visit the pueblo without mentioning the dogs. Pueblo dogs have freedom, yet they know their place. They are thin, yet they don’t act hungry. They are abundant, but belong. They are content. So content.

And I learned that all Indian ponies are beautiful. (This photo was taken near the pueblo.)

Who is the hero of the Taos Pueblo people? Richard Nixon. It was he who returned to them their sacred Blue Lake and wilderness in 1970. They are proud to tell anyone this and Nixon said it was his proudest achievement.

Now back to the owner of the humble shop pictured up top. Robert Mirabal was the subject of a 2001 PBS special “From A Painted Cave”.

His CDs can be ordered here.