A Compendium of Useful Information for the Practical Man/Indian Lore/Plants

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Plants used by the Desert Indians

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California desert trails By Joseph Smeaton Chase

Fibrous Plants used by the Luisenos Indians

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Dogbane (Indianhemp)

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Dogbane is poisonous to dogs and humans, wash your hands after handling.

The best fiber is made from dogbane or Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum, a perennial plant with annual stems. The inner bark furnishes the fiber. Sometimes the outer covering is scraped off and the inner bark then removed from the stalk; or the bark is pulled off entirely, and soaked in boiling water, after which the outer covering easily separates from the fiber. In either case the fiber is rolled into a ball, and made into twine by rolling it between the palm of the hand and the bare thigh.

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The culture of the Luiseño Indians By Philip Stedman Sparkman




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A milkweed, Asclepias eriocarpa, furnishes a light-colored fiber, but it is not so durable as that obtained from dogbane. The fiber is separated from the pulp by soaking the stems in boiling water; or, late in the season, when the pulp has decayed, it may be separated by merely basting the stems. It is then made into a ball, which is afterwards made into twine in the same manner as dogbane fiber.

Common Nettle

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The common nettle, Urtica holosericea, also furnishes a fiber, but it is little esteemed.

Miscellaneous Information

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The twine made from the plants mentioned is usually two-ply, but three-ply and four-ply twine is also made. Bowstrings are made from such twine, generally of dogbane (Indianhemp).

A large-meshed net for carrying bulky or heavy articles, ikut, is also made from twine. This carrying-net has a cord attached that passes across the forehead, which bears part of the weight of the contents. A net-work sack for carrying acorns, kawish, was formerly made, the mesh being sufficiently small to prevent the acorns from falling through. The mouth of this sack might be tied and the sack itself placed in the large-meshed carrying net, or it could be used alone, as it had a cord attached to it in the same manner as the carrying net. One we have seen would probably hold about a bushel. Other net-work sacks with a still finer mesh are said to have been made at one time. In these small seeds were carried.

A long net, yulapish, for use at rabbit drives, was occasionally made. These were considered very valuable, much time being consumed in their manufacture. A draw-net for catching rabbits and jackrabbits was also made. This was placed in their runs, or stretched between bushes where they would be likely to pass. An endeavor was then made to drive them towards the nets. A small fine-meshed dip-net was made for catching a very small fish found in streams. A large dip-net was made for sea fishing.

The front apron worn by women was also formerly made from this cordage, sometimes of net-work and sometimes of loose strings suspended to a cord tied around the waist.

Slings, pivanlish, were also made from twine, and it was used for many other purposes.

Yucca mohavetisis

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The fiber of Yucca Mohavetisis, so much used by the Cahuillas, is seldom employed by the Luisenos, though a fish line was formerly made from it. The leaves are soaked in water until the pulpy part decays, when they are basted to separate the fiber.

Wavyleaf Soap Plant

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From the fibers covering the bulb of the wavyleaf soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), a small brush, alukut, is made. This is used, in pounding acorns, to sweep up the scattered meal, and to brush it from the mortar.