Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/55

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45
FOOD AND FIBER PLANTS OF THE INDIANS.

longer than those of our wintergreen, are less aromatic, but well flavored. As the plant which bears them grows in the wooded districts so thickly set as almost to cover the ground, the quantity of fruit is very large, and it therefore becomes an important source of food to the Indians.

The small cranberry (Vaccinum oxcycoccus), is found in the bogs of Oregon as well as those of Maine, and probably stretches quite across the continent. It is used by the Indians, but is nowhere abundant, and is therefore of little value to them.

One of the most noted fruits gathered by the Indians in the Northwest is the salmon-berry (Rubus spectabilis). The bush grows to the height of eight or ten feet, has handsome foliage, showy flowers, and a pinkish-yellow berry an inch in length, which resembles our Antwerp raspberry. It is wholesome and nutritious, and is largely used by both Indians and whites, but the taste is rather insipid, and it hardly justifies the promise of its beautiful appearance.

The Oregon grape—the fruit of two species of Berberis (B. aquifolium and B. Pinnata)—affords agreeable variety to the diet of the Indians of the Northwest, and is sometimes eaten by the whites. The pretty yellow flowers, for which these plants are sometimes cultivated, are followed by clusters of deep-blue, bloom-covered berries which have a sharp yet pleasant acid taste; but they are small, and the quantity attainable in any locality is not large.

Throughout all the Rocky Mountain region the red-berried elder (Sambucus racemosa) grows as in the Eastern States and Europe, and makes its display of showy but useless berries. There, however, another species of the genus (S. glauca) has taken the place of the common elder (S. Canadensis) of the Eastern States. It is a larger plant than ours, and is sometimes loaded with black but very glaucous fruit, which is rather better than the fruit of S. Canadensis and is more used.

The buffalo-berry (Shepherdia argentea). Along the tributaries of the Missouri in Montana, of the Colorado in Utah, and San Juan in New Mexico, and in many other places throughout the Far West, may be found thickets of a somewhat spiny shrub ten to fifteen feet in height with peculiar glaucous, narrow, elliptical leaves resembling those of the olive. This shrub in July and August is sometimes loaded with bright-red pellucid berries which have the acidity and flavor of the red currant. These berries are much used and highly esteemed by the Indians and whites, affording a most agreeable change from ordinary camp-fare, and, by their acidity, supplying a physiological want to the system.

Another closely allied plant (Eleganus argentea), and more eastern in its habits, has a larger and edible though drier and less esteemed berry. Both these are close relatives of Shepherdia Canadensis, which grows throughout the Northern United States from New England to