North Coast CNPS

Wiyot Ethnobotany

The Wiyot Tribe have a strong relationship with the botanical world of their ancestral homeland around the Humboldt Bay area.  The study of a culture's relationship and traditions centered around plants is known as ethnobotany.  While much of the Wiyot’s ethnobotany was lost as a result of the horrible massacres of 1860, the Tribe continues to rekindle their knowledge and practice gathering ethics in regards to plant use and spirituality. 

One huge misconception that early European colonists made was that the beautiful landscapes of North America were products shaped by wild nature, in the absence of humans.  In California, early Spanish explorers noted the park-like savannahs and diverse prairies, yet archaeologists seldom if ever described the incipient agriculture that tribes were practicing, and wrongly lumped these groups together as hunter-gathers.  In reality, Native Americans were transplanting, weeding, harvesting, clearing, and maintaining coastal prairies and food-plant populations, holding generations worth of traditional ecological knowledge and living sustainably on the land. 

The Wiyot burned hazelnut and berry patches to renew growth for basketry materials and fruit production, which kept early successional habitats open, and there is some evidence that the Wiyot cultivated geophytes (bulbs or plants with an underground edible storage units, colloquially called “Indian potatoes” which include genera such as Camas,Brodiaea, Allium and Triteleia) which they brought in from other habitats, essentially tending them in a garden setting. Plants were also used as medicine and for ceremony, including several varieties of Angelica.  Today the Tribe is educating its youth about Wiyot cultural plants, ethnobotany, and plant identification. Questions about Wiyot ethnobotany and the efforts the Tribe is taking to restore and protect culturally important plants and populations can be directed to the Wiyot Natural Resources Department. 

Go to the next page to see some other Wiyot cultural plants.

Many plants were valued for their fruit.

Thimbleberry 4
Thimbleberry Flowers
Salmonberry Flowers
Salal flowers
Salal Flowers
Hazelnut nut
Kadjo'h-datgerdol, hazelnuts, were a valuable source of protein and fat, and are still nurtured by the Wiyots.
MelvaDulco YardHazelnut 2015
Melva Dulca with hazelnut in her yard.
hazelnut thicket HumbHill
Hazelnut thicket on Humboldt Hill
kadjoh datigerdol hazelnut scub edgi
Hazelnut scrub edge
Wiyot youth CoastalBramble
Wiyot youth gather berries at coastal bramble.
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