Journals of Lewis and Clark: Plants

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The Journals of Lewis and Clark: The Plants
The following excerpts are taken from entries of the Journals of Lewis and Clark - Plants. A general description of the beasts, birds and plants, &c. found by the party in this expedition.

The vegetable productions of the country, which furnish a large proportion of the food of the Indians, are the roots of a species of thistle, the fern, the rush, the liquorice, and a small cylindric root, resembling in flavor and consistency the sweet potatoe.

1st. The thistle, called by the natives shanatanque, is a plant which grows in a deep, rich, dry loam, with a considerable mixture of sand. The stem is simple, ascending, cylindric, and hispid, and rising to the height of three or four feet, The cauline life, which, as well as the stem of the last season is dead, is simple, crenate, and oblong; rather more obtuse at its apex than at its insertion, which is decurrent, and its position declining; whilst the margin is armed with prickles, and its disk is hairy. The flower too is dry and mutilated; but the pericarp seems much like that of the common thistle. The root-leaves, which still possess their verdure, and are about half grown, are of a pale green color. The root, however, is the only part used. It is from nine to fifteen inches long, about the size of a man's thumb, perpendicular, fusiform, and with from two to four radicles. The rind is of a brown color, and somewhat rough. When first taken from the earth, it is white, and nearly as crisp as a carrot, and in this state is sometimes eaten without any preparation. But after it is prepared by the same process used for the pasheco quamash, which is the most usual and the best method, it becomes black, and much improved in flavor. Its taste is exactly that of sugar, and it is indeed the sweetest vegetable employed by the Indians. After being baked in the kiln, it is either eaten simply or with train oil; sometimes pounded fine and mixed with cold water, until it is reduced to the consistence of sagamity, or Indian mush, which last method is the most agreeable to our palates.

2. Three species of fern grow in this neighborhood, but the root of only one is eaten. It is very abundant in those parts of the open lands and prairies which have a deep, loose, rich, black loam, without any sand. There, it attains the height of four or five feet, and is a beautiful plant with a fine green color in summer. The stem, which is smooth, cylindric, and slightly grooved on one side, rises erectly about half its height, when it divides into two branches, or rather long footstalks, which put forth in pairs from one side only, and near the edges of the groove, declining backwards from the grooved side. These footstalks are themselves grooved and cylindric, and as they gradually taper toward the extremities, put forth others of a smaller size, which are alternate, and have forty or fifty alternate, pinnate, horizontal, and sessile leaves: the leaves are multipartite for half the length of their footstalk, when they assume the tongue-like form altogether; being, moreover, revolute, with the upper disk smooth, and the lower resembling cotton: the top is annual, and therefore dead at present, but it produces no flower or fruit: the root itself is perennial and grows horizontally; sometimes a little diverging, or obliquely descending, and frequently dividing itself as it proceeds, and shooting up a number of stems. It lies about four inches under the surface of the earth, in a cylindrical form, with few or no radicles, and varies from the size of a goose quill tothat of a man's finger. The bark is black, thin, brittle, and rather rough, and easily separates in flakes from the part which is eaten: the centre is divided into two parts by a strong, flat, and white ligament, like a piece of thin tape; on each side of which is a white substance, resembling, after the root is roasted, both in appearance and flavor, the dough of wheat. It has, however, a pungency which is disagreeable, but the natives eat it voraciously, and it seems to be very nutritious.

3. The rush is most commonly used by the Killamucks, and other Indians on the seacoast, along the sands of which it grows in greatest abundance. From each root a single stem rises erectly to the height of three or four feet, somewhat thicker than a large quill, hollow and jointed; about twenty or thirty long, lineal, stellate, or radiate and horizontal leaves surround the stem at each joint, about half an inch above which, its stem is sheathed like the sand rush. When green, it resembles that plant also in appearance, as well as in having a rough stem. It is not branching; nor does it bear, as far as we can discover, either flower or seed. At the bottom of this stem, which is annual, is a small, strong radicle, about an inch long, descending perpendicularly to the root, while just above the junction of the radicle with the stem, the latter is surrounded in the form of a wheel, with six or nine small radicles, descending obliquely: the root attached to this radicle is a perennial solid bulb, about an inch long, and of the thickness of a man's thumb, of an ovate form, depressed on one or two of its sides, and covered with a thin, smooth, black rind: the pulp is white, brittle, and easily masticated. It is commonly roasted, though sometimes eaten raw; but in both states is rather an insipid root.

4. The liquorice of this country does not differ from that common to the United Statss. It here delights in a deep, loose, sandy soil, and grows very large, and abundantly. It is prepared by roasting in the embers, and pounding it slightly with a small stick, in order to separate the strong ligament in the centre of the root, which is then thrown away, and the rest chewed and swallowed. In this way it has an agreeable flavor, not unlike that of the sweet potatoe. The root of the cattail, or cooper's flag, is eaten by the Indians. There is also, a species of small, dry, tuberous root, two inches in length, and about the thickness of the finger. They are eaten raw, are crisp, milky, and of an agreeable flavor.

5. Beside the small cylindric root mentioned above, is another of the same form and appearance, which is usually boiled and eaten with train oil. Its taste, however, is disagreeably bitter. But the most valuable of all the Indian roots, is

6. The wappatoo, or the bulb of the common sagittafolia, or common arrowhead. It does not grow in this neighborhood, but is in great abundance in the marshy grounds of that beautiful valley, which extends from near Quicksand river for seventy miles westward, and is a principal article of trade between the inhabitants of that valley and those of the seacoast.

The shrub rises to the height of four or five feet; the stem simple and much branched. The bark is of a reddish dark brown; the main stem somewhat rough, while that of the bough is smooth; the leaf is about one tenth of an inch long, obtuse at the apex, and acute and angular at the insertion of the pedicle. The leaf is three fourths of an inch in length, and three eighths in width, smooth, and of a paler green than evergreens generally are. The fruit is a small deep purple berry, and of a pleasant flavor; the natives eat the berry when ripe, but seldom collect such quantities as to dry for winter use.

Accounts of the Fruits and Berries

Accounts of the Trees

Accounts of the Shrubs and Undergrowth

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