Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/42

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32
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

1. Maize (Zea mais), our Indian corn, seems to have been the most widely diffused and most important of all the kinds of vegetable food employed by the native population. In all parts of North and South America, where the climate was favorable, the whites found corn cultivated by the aborigines, and in. the tombs of Peru as well as in the mounds of the mound-builders, ears of corn have been discovered, which prove that it was an important element of subsistence as far back as human records extend. Even the nomadic Indians who inhabited the forest-covered region between the Mississippi and Atlantic had their corn-fields and their patches of beans and squashes, and succotash (the Indian name) was the dish most esteemed in their cuisine, and is almost the only one which has been adopted by the whites.

In the region west of the Mississippi only a limited district is adapted to the cultivation of maize. It is a plant which finishes its growth and ripens its seed within three or four months, and it therefore matures within the tropical summer which prevails even to the northern boundary of the United States. But it requires both warmth and moisture; hence in the dry regions of the Far West it can only be cultivated in few localities, and there attains but imperfect development. In California, where so many fruits, flowers, and grains reach unequaled perfection, the cultivation of corn is rarely successful. Even where irrigation supplies the necessary moisture and the mid-day sun is hotter than in any Eastern State, the cloudless sky permits such rapid radiation that the nights are always cool, often cold, and the warm, moist nights of midsummer in the Mississippi Valley, when the corn may be heard to grow, never occur. On the table-lands of Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico corn is quite extensively cultivated, but under difficulties, and never with what we should call success. The plant is always small, the grain light in texture and usually of some fancy color, and it is not uncommon to see the bread or cakes baked from it of a positive blue. Among the Moquis of Northeastern Arizona, where the plains that are cultivated are sandy, the seed-corn is dropped to the bottom of holes twelve to fifteen inches deep, made with a stick. Though dry at the surface, the sand is moist below, having absorbed all the water furnished by the snows of winter, and the cloudless sun warms the soil so that the grains germinate even at that depth. When the growing plant rises above the surface of the ground it immediately shoots out its ears, and the field when the crops mature looks as though it had been inundated and sand deposited around the stems to half their height. The color of the grain is usually blue, and the bread made from it and baked between two flat, smooth stones by the Moquis, though well flavored, looks like blue wrapping-paper.

2. Beans {Phaseolus vulgaris). It has been demonstrated that one or several kinds of beans were generally cultivated in America at the time of the discovery by Columbus. The "Lima-bean" was certainly