Blooming!

Our Readers Share Stories

As we celebrate Earth Day this month, we thank our readers for sharing stories and art about your favorite native plant or tree. Share your story (up to 100 words or so) and art or photo with us. Click and tell us: #nativeplantchallenge.

Native Plant Challenge: California Cuisine

Kim Marcus (Serrano-Cahuilla) sent us this television interview from several years ago in which he and daughter Mallory share the bounty of Southern California Native American foods that include fried yucca blossoms and cacti, acorn, and pinyon nuts.

Native Plant Challenge: Tree Growing

By Timothy Lauridsen
“After helping my dad homestead land in Anza back in 1958 yet was only 7 yrs. young, our 1st well was drilled in '63. I began growing trees as a hobby which quickly grew into a business. 

“Fast forward 58 yrs. & 83,400 trees later, am 70 yrs young, still providing a solution to today's population explosion problems. Fresh air means living a healthier life.”

(Photos Courtesy of Timothy Lauridsen)

Native Plant Challenge: Yucca

Yucca plant blooming near San Bernardino (Robert Porter photo).

By Robert Porter
One of my favorite indigenous plants is Yucca whipplei, commonly called, “Our Lord’s Candle,” or “Spanish Bayonet.” (Editor’s note: now renamed by botanists as Hesperoyucca whipplei. ) The Cahuilla call it Panu'ul and the Serrano call it Uumuc. Yucca has many indigenous culinary uses. In the book Temalpakh by Katherine Siva Saubel and Lowell Bean, yucca is described as, “One of the earliest major food plants, this yucca blooms from about April through May in most areas and dies after blooming. Two parts of the plant were used for food: the flower stalk and the blossoms. The flower stalk was said to be at its best just prior to blossoming when it was full of tasty sap.

Yucca stalk sprouting upward in springtime (Robert Porter photo).

“The stalk was cut near the ground, placed in a rock-lined roasting pit, covered with sand, and cooked overnight. Often after baking, stalks were dried, ground, and mixed with water to form cakes. The stalk was also sometimes sliced, parboiled, and cooked like squash. When blooming had just begun, the blossoms were said to be sweet. As the flowers matured, however they became somewhat bitter. Less mature flowers were parboiled and eaten. Very mature flowers were boiled with salt up to three times before eating.” (Bean and Saubel, 1972, p. 150.)

Yucca plant starting to bloom (Robert Porter photo).

I personally tried the stalk at the Yucca Harvest prepared by the current Chairman of San Manuel Band, Ken Ramirez. It was quite sweet with a fibrous texture similar to sugarcane. I chewed the quids of fiber like chewing gum, and then discarded the leftover fibrous balls of yucca. It was an honor to able to consume yucca with the Yuhaaviatam and learn of its importance to their history.

I also got to go on a yucca harvest with Aaron Saubel, grandson of Katherine Siva Saubel. We were searching for a blooming specimen, and he explained the need for a yucca with young white flowers, as the mature flowers with purple in them were bitter and needed more preparation before eating. He was right, as the mature purplish flowers had a bitter taste when consumed raw and the younger white flowers had a pleasantly sweet floral taste. This indigenous harvest was fun to learn and a good time that I will never forget. These experiences are the reasons I hold the yucca plant in such high regard and will respect this plant for the rest of my life.

The stalk starts growing in spring (Robert Porter photo).

Editor’s Note: Robert Porter, who wrote previously about chia, one of our most popular News from Dorothy Ramon Learning Center articles, serves on the City of San Bernardino Arts and Historical Preservation Commission, and is studying at Cal State San Bernardino toward a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, anthropology, paleontology, and holistic education.

Native Plant Challenge: Yucca Stalk

Kim Marcus (Serrano/Cahuilla): "It’s that time of the year to harvest yucca stalk. Achama!!!!! This is another traditional food that our ancestors relied on for nourishment. My family looks forward to this time of year. When I run/jog for a seven mile run on the Santa Rosa Indian Reservation I often stop to eat yucca for replenishing my fluids and rejuvenating my spirit."

What’s your native plant story? Click and tell us here: #nativeplantchallenge.

For a Yucca Sculpture …

… And other art in Gerald Clarke’s exhibit, Falling Rock, senior curator Christine Giles reports that the Palm Springs Art Museum has reopened. Until mid-May you can see Gerald Clarke’s exhibit as featured in our Feb. 24, 2021, News from Dorothy Ramon Learning Center. “New visitor hours at the main museum are Friday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. We will be closed Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays,” she said. “Visitor capacity will be at 25 percent and tickets must be purchased or reserved online in advance.” For more information visit https://www.psmuseum.org.

Native Voices: Authors Roundtable

Ruth Nolan invites all to a California Indian Authors Roundtable reading and discussion on Sunday, April 18, 2021, 4 pm California time on Zoom. The authors represent tribes from around the state:

  • Deborah A. Miranda (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation) has appeared in many anthologies, most recently, When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: An Anthology of Native Nations Poetry (2020). Her mixed-genre book, Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (Heyday 2013), received the 2015 PEN-Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award, a Gold Medal from the Independent Publishers Association, and was short-listed for the William Saroyan Literary Award. 

  • Terria Smith (Cahuilla) has been editor of News From Native California magazine for more than five years and directs California Indian Publishing at Heyday.

  • Ursula Pike (Karuk) is a former Peace Corps volunteer whose debut memoir, An Indian among los IndígenasA Native Travel Memoir, is newly published by Heyday Books.

  • Cindi Alvitre, affiliated with the Tongva Nation, and a member of the Traditional Council of Pimu, is NAGPRA Coordinator & Faculty at California State University, Long Beach, American Indian Studies Program. She is a co-founder of the Mother Earth Clan, sharing traditional arts, and also co-founder of Ti’at Society, sharing ancient maritime practices.

The online event is co-sponsored by the Communication Division at College of the Desert, Heyday, and News from Native California magazine. Ruth Nolan, a College of the Desert professor, will moderate the readings and panel discussion. For the Zoom link and more information, go HERE.

Native Voices: Play Reading

Native Voices: Your Creativity Needed

Celebrate Native American Cultures

Every article in this issue of News from Dorothy Ramon Learning Center comes from our community of readers. Thank you! We value your contributions. Join our #nativeplantchallenge: EMAIL.  Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, supports our community working together to save and share Southern California’s Native American cultures, languages, history, and traditional arts. Subscribe to News from Dorothy Ramon Learning Center. Join us at dorothyramon.org and Dorothy Ramon Learning Center on Facebook. Pat Murkland, Editor. April 14, 2021.