Ethnobotany is the study of plants of indigenous cultures, including agricultural, medicinal and religious significance. A floral arrangement designed with an American Indian ethnobotanical theme encompasses diverse plant uses from many regional tribal groups. The arrangement can honor American Indians by showcasing their historical and cultural contributions using representative plants.
Flowers and Berries
Floral arranging considers colors, shapes and textures of different plant parts and blends them into a cohesive design. Purple coneflower, lobelia, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod are flowering plants that American Indians used medicinally. These flowers add colorful accents to a floral arrangement. Purple beautyberry was a ceremonial plant used in sweat-lodge rituals. In late summer through autumn, cascading branches are covered with vibrant purple berries. Fruiting sprays of this shrub add stunning accents to American Indian floral art.
Pumpkins and Gourds
Squash crops, including pumpkins, were dietary staples for many American Indians who cultivated them as one member of a “three sisters garden.” Growing corn, beans and squash crops together is one of the oldest recorded methods of companion planting. Adding small pumpkins, such as Jack-Be-Little, on long floral picks within a floral arrangement recognizes this important American Indian agricultural contribution. Gourds fulfilled many functions including bowls, water vessels, rattles and musical instruments. Miniature gourds offer color and texture to an arrangement.
Corn and Popcorn
Corn and popcorn are native to North America. The Special Collections exhibit at the National Agricultural Library in Delaware documents the discovery of a 1,000-year-old popped kernel of popcorn in a cave inhabited by predecessors of the Pueblo Indians. American Indians ground corn info flour, ate fresh corn from the cob and popped corn as a snack. Although there are many varieties of corn and popcorn, miniature ears of popcorn called “Tom Thumb” add whimsical interest to a floral arrangement.
Foliage adds framework, fullness and greenery to floral arrangements. Boughs of pine, hemlock and cedar represent specific trees used for making shelters, canoes and paddles. American Indians used yaupon holly stems to make arrows for hunting. Sprigged throughout a floral arrangement, yaupons add vivid contrasting green foliage and red berries. Ferns add lacy texture to an arrangement and represent a food and beverage source. Tender fiddleheads were eaten, mature fronds were brewed as a tea and virtually all American Indians used fern rhizomes as food, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension website.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension; Fifty Common Native Plants Important in Florida’s Ethnobotanical History; Ginger M. Allen, et al.; December 2002
- Alabama Farmers Co-Op Cooperative Farming News; Beautyberry Isn’t Just for the Birds; H.T. Farmer
- National Wildlife Federation: Top Ten Native Plants for Alaska
- USDA Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library: Popcorn — Ingrained in America’s Agricultural History
- Photo Credit Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images