Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/45

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35
FOOD AND FIBER PLANTS OF THE INDIANS.

albumen to afford considerable nutrition, but the chaff is quite in ex- cess of the kernel, and, when bruised together in their rude mortars, the Indians are compelled to gorge quantities of the material to satisfy their hunger. It is poor food at best, but is a welcome resort when, as it often happens, they are on the verge of starvation,

10. Nut-Pikes.—In various parts of the Far West grow species of Pimcs in which the seeds are of unusual size. The primary object of this is undoubtedly to furnish an adequate amount of prepared food to the germinating plant in regions where the struggle for existence is desperate, not with competing forms of vegetable life, but against the sterility of the soil or the severity of the climate. Incidentally this provision of Nature is of great benefit to a variety of animals, and even to man himself. It is evident that this special device for secur- ing the perpetuation of the species is vicarious with the development of the wing upon the seed by which it is caught in the wind and its distribution favored. AVhere the seed is unusually large and heavy the samara can do little for its transportation, and where it is largest the wing is reduced to a simple raphe, or has entirely disappeared. For the most part these nut-pines are the inhabitants of arid regions where the amount of animal life is small, and therefore there are few enemies by which the seed would be destroyed. And there the ste- rility is such that any device by which the seed was carried away from the protecting shade and the fertilizing influence of the parent tree would be destructive rather than protective. Hence the seeds are wingless, and are dropped among the decaying leaves that gather un- der and about it. To the Indians these pine-nuts are in some regions not only an important but almost an indispensable source of subsist- ence; they gather them systematically, as our farmers harvest their crops, and, in cases where for any reason a failure of this crop occurs, some tribes or bands have been brought nearly or quite to starvation for the want of the nutriment they afford.

The list of the nut-pines of the Far "West includes the following species: Pinus Sabiniana and P. Coxdteri, of California; P. alMcau- lis and P. Jlexilis, which grow on the mountains of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, etc.; P. edulis and its variety, P. monophylla, of the arid districts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico; and, finally, P. Parry ana and P. cemhroides, of Lower California and Northern Mexico. Of these, P. Sabiniana has large, ovoid, massive cones, six to eight inches in length and four to six inches in diameter, of which the surface bristles with strong and curved spines. The seeds are as large as good-sized beans, and of much the same form. The tree grows to a moderate or large size, but never forms forests. It is gen- erally found scattered over the rocky foot-hills of the mountains, up to the height of three or four thousand feet—its great spiny cones, its spreading form, and blue-green foliage, making it everywhere conspicuous.