GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2009 show19
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Show #19/1606
How Indians Used the Desert as a Garden


Palm Canyon
JOE AND ROCKY START IN AN AREA CALLED PALM CANYON. This is one of the ancestral homes of the Cahuilla people. The Cahuilla were hunter/gatherers and lived off the land. Thus plants were important to them and they made use of most. One in particular is the Washingtonia fillifera (California Fan Palm). This canyon is the largest oasis of its kind and important because of this particular Palm tree. It's an amazing feeling to be under the palms. The California Fan Palm is the only palm native to California and it's the only one in the world that keeps its fronds for the life of the tree.

Click here for more info

Arrowweed
ANOTHER PLANT THAT GROWS ALONG THE STREAMS IS CALLED PLUCHEA SERICEA (ARROWWEED). As the name suggests it was used for arrows but as well they used it to make baskets, it was even utilized for the walls of their homes and their roofs. They were used as wind breaks, fencing, even the young shoots or roots were made into meal.

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Desert Willow
CHILOPSIS LINEARIS (DESERT WILLOW) IS ALSO FOUND ALONG STREAMS OR IN DRY WASHES. It too was useful to the Cahuilla. They used it to build and frame their homes which were called Kiich. They also made bows for hunting large game and they used it in making skirts. Men and women ran around barefooted, topless, bareback and wore strips of Desert Willow trees in their skirts.

Click here for more info

Deer Grass
THEY FIRST NOTICE A NATIVE GRASS KNOWN AS MUHLENBERGIA RIGENS (DEER GRASS). This grass was important to the Cahuilla, they were known as basket makers. The Agua Caliente logo is a basket. They took the stocks and formed the foundation of the coil baskets they made. They would even wrap the Deer grass with Juncus reed when making their baskets.

Click here for more info

Brittlebush
IF ONE THINKS A DESERT IS DRAB AND BORING, ENCELIA FARINOSE (BRITTLEBUSH) PUTS THAT THEORY TO REST. It is beautiful this year but last year everything appeared dead. Everything was dormant because the winter rains never came. They came this winter and the plant is beautiful. It too was important to the Indians. They used it primarily as a temporary pain reliever. If they had sore gums or a toothache they would boil the leaves down to a concoction, then rinse their mouth with it. It numbed everything, kind of like Novocain. The sap was collected, which emits a pleasant smell and they would rub it on their chest, somewhat like a vapor rub.

Click here for more info

Creosote Bush
LARREA TRIdentata (CREOSOTE BUSH) HAS MANY USES. The Cahuilla would make a weak tea and before their first meal would drink a cup for good health. Any kind of stomach problem, make a tea. If made too strong it will make one throw up, so be careful. The power is in the leaves. Dry or fresh, it doesn't matter. It is also effective fighting dandruff. Make an infusion with the leaves, wash your scalp, get rid of dandruff. Colds, congestion, lung problems, boil the leaves, inhale the steam, it will clear you right up. If you have an infected wound make a poultice with the leaves, pack the wound, put a warm stone over it, it draws the infection out, the wound heals faster. Scientists have found that this plant, its leaves, provide one of the strongest antioxidants known to man. In addition it has landscape value, studies have shown that this is one of the most drought tolerant plants known. The plant can go 3 years without rainfall and still survive. During a drought it may look dead but when rain comes they come alive.

Click here for more info

Desert Crockpot
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT A DESERT CROCKPOT -- CLICK HERE

Click here for more info

Rocky's Take Away
Rocky was worried about what people would think about a garden show in the desert. Most probably think about a garden as something beautiful, colorful, well maintained and manicured and probably wouldn't expect to see this kind of beauty and lushness in a desert setting. But he believes that this is nature's garden, the way the Cahuilla saw it. AND THAT IS ROCKY'S TAKE AWAY - INSTEAD OF LOOKING AT A GARDEN AND SEEING HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS, TRY TO THINK OF HOW USEFUL THE VARIOUS PLANTS MIGHT BE. How can one use them for their existence? If thinking that way, then one might understand how the ancient Cahuilla saw this place. And have an even greater appreciation for the desert.

Click here for more info

 


LINKS:

Agua Caliente Spa Resort - Palm Springs

Agua Caliente Band Of Cahuilla Indians

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

Music

Garden Smart Plant List



Complete transcript of the show.


While many might not view the desert as a garden, upon closer examination it is a plant treasure trove. And the plants are not only beautiful, but functional. Garden Smart examines how the native people in early times utilized everything nature provided. Plants provided food, fire, shelter, clothing, even art. With water becoming scarce in many parts of the country, the lessons learned are timely and applicable to many.
The original residents of Palm Springs California were the Cahuilla Indians and the City is on the Indian reservation. Millie Brown is the Chairwoman of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum and also Vice Chairman on the Tribal Council. To become a tribal leader one must be voted into that position. There are 5 people on the council - Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary/Treasurer and 2 members. Every other year they are rotated. Millie's mother was on the first all Indian tribal council in the U.S. and Millie is excited to continue that tradition. She has also been working on starting their Museum for 20 years. Millie and others realized they have a very strong cultural history, so they formed a committee, then formed a board of directors, then established the museum in downtown Palm Springs. The current Museum is 1,600 square feet, the new Museum will be over 10,000 square feet and will be opened in several years. Today one would see a lot of artifacts but the main focus is their history. They have a lot of stories to tell, including their survival in Palm Springs in the past as well as present time.
The Museum is interesting but Joe wants to see the canyons and Millie suggests he meet Rocky, the Head Ranger. When one thinks of plant diversity one thinks of the rainforest but surprisingly the desert is second only to the rainforest in plant diversity. Rocky will provide the plant detail for this show.
Rocky has spent most of his adult life in the Marine Corp. From the Vietnam War to the Gulf War he was in Infantry Reconnaissance units, towards the end of his career he taught Marines how to survive in the desert. After retiring from the Corp Rocky joined Joshua National Park and when the rangers were being formed at the Indian Canyons they asked him to join. His job entails everything from law enforcement to maintenance to interpretation to resource management to search and rescue. But much of his job entails educating visitors. He feels the best way to protect the land is to educate folks so they understand how special this place is and then hopefully when they go home they will start taking care of their land.
The Cahuilla Indians were called the good people or the people of good and thought this land special. 2,000-3,000 years ago they migrated here because they felt at that time the land further west was too crowded. They found these canyons, these mountains, claimed the San Jacinto Range, the Santa Rosa Range, the Coachella Valley, including the Banning Pass and made this home. Today there are 9 bands that make up the Cahuilla tribe and they still have basically little reservations within this ancient territory. This land is special because of the water that's here. It's hard to find water in the desert but here it's available year round. Water makes all the plant life possible and plant life provides the food source for wildlife.
JOE AND ROCKY START IN AN AREA CALLED PALM CANYON. This is one of the ancestral homes of the Cahuilla people. The Cahuilla were hunter/gatherers and lived off the land. Thus plants were important to them and they made use of most. One in particular is the Washingtonia fillifera (California Fan Palm). This canyon is the largest oasis of its kind and important because of this particular Palm tree. It's an amazing feeling to be under the palms. The California Fan Palm is the only palm native to California and it's the only one in the world that keeps its fronds for the life of the tree. It also has its own legend. As the story goes, a long time ago, before there were Palm trees here there was an elder whose name was Maul. Maul felt his days were getting short and he wanted to leave something useful for his people. So he walked all over the land thinking - what should I leave my people, it must be useful. It dawned on him, there are no Palm trees here. So he went into the east valley, found a nice little spring and there he stood still, firm and powerful until slowly from his feet the roots took hold around his legs, the bark formed and from his hair sprouted the Palm fronds. Maul turned himself into the first Palm tree. So, from there Palm trees spread all over the land. It was a great gift and a useful plant.
As mentioned plants were important to the Cahuilla and none more than the California Fan Palm. The fronds are attached to the roof of the huts, called Kiich. The weapon for hunting large game, like the mule deer and the big horn sheep in the mountains was a bow and arrow. The bow was made from the stems of the palm fronds. They are strong and flexible, thus make a good bow. They made utensils from the Palm fronds. They're very woody, thick and sturdy. The Palm tree produces Palm fruit an important source of food. It looks like blueberries but tastes like dates. Very sweet. They crushed the seed into a mush and ate it or used it as a supplement for other foods that were more bland or bitter. Palm seeds were used as a gourd rattle. The gourd was filled with the Palm seeds, and the handle was made from the Cottonwood tree. The instrument was used to keep rhythm for the Cahuilla bird songs. Most importantly they made fire from this tree. To early people fire was very important. They used a fire stick, a base and for tinder used Palm fruit stems or would pull some of the fibers off the trunk. They were very fine and made good tinder. This Palm was very important to the Cahuilla people. Joe notices some Palms with twisted trunks. He knows from experience that these trees were blocked from light thus grew in odd patterns to find light.
Top


ANOTHER PLANT THAT GROWS ALONG THE STREAMS IS CALLED PLUCHEA SERICEA (ARROWWEED). As the name suggests it was used for arrows but as well they used it to make baskets, it was even utilized for the walls of their homes and their roofs. They were used as wind breaks, fencing, even the young shoots or roots were made into meal.
Another important tree was the Populus fremontii (Cottonwood). It is found where there is a lot of water, has heart shaped leaves and too was a useful plant. It provided construction material, posts for their homes, firewood and also was used as a medicinal plant. If one had swollen muscle pain they would take the bark and leaves, boil it down to a solution, soak a wrap in it and wrap the injured area. It reduced the swelling and the pain.
Top


CHILOPSIS LINEARIS (DESERT WILLOW) IS ALSO FOUND ALONG STREAMS OR IN DRY WASHES. It too was useful to the Cahuilla. They used it to build and frame their homes which were called Kiich. They also made bows for hunting large game and they used it in making skirts. Men and women ran around barefooted, topless, bareback and wore strips of Desert Willow trees in their skirts.
The next area Rocky identifies as a kitchen for 6 families of the Pai-nik-tem clans that lived in this canyon. The Pai-nik-tem clan were known as the people of the daylight or the early morning people dating back 2-3,000 years ago. Rocky knows it was 6 families because there are 6 mortars here that were used for preparing food. Every family would have their own mortar and they didn't share. The mortars were used to prepare the food by grinding things like Acorn, the Palm fruit and the Honey Mesquite. The Prosopsis glandulosa (Honey Mesquite) tree presently is full of blossoms but from the blossoms are produced a long, large seed pod that looks like a string bean. It was harvested, ground into flour, made into cakes and eaten.
Top


Joe and Rocky next take a 1 mile looping trail that goes through the oasis. THEY FIRST NOTICE A NATIVE GRASS KNOWN AS MUHLENBERGIA RIGENS (DEER GRASS). This grass was important to the Cahuilla, they were known as basket makers. The Agua Caliente logo is a basket. They took the stocks and formed the foundation of the coil baskets they made. They would even wrap the Deer grass with Juncus reed when making their baskets.
Hyptis emory (Desert lavender) is a favorite desert plant. The smell is fabulous. Just rub the blossoms and take a whiff. It is very relaxing and comforting. The Indians didn't care that much about smell rather used it medicinally. The leaves were applied to bleeding wounds.
Many send questions to our web site asking why won't Lavender grow in different parts of the country. Observe how it is growing in nature. Here it's near water but certainly not in water. In fact the conditions here are very dry. So the tip is - observe what's happening in nature and duplicate that in your own home garden.
Top


IF ONE THINKS A DESERT IS DRAB AND BORING, ENCELIA FARINOSE (BRITTLEBUSH) PUTS THAT THEORY TO REST. It is beautiful this year but last year everything appeared dead. Everything was dormant because the winter rains never came. They came this winter and the plant is beautiful. It too was important to the Indians. They used it primarily as a temporary pain reliever. If they had sore gums or a toothache they would boil the leaves down to a concoction, then rinse their mouth with it. It numbed everything, kind of like Novocain. The sap was collected, which emits a pleasant smell and they would rub it on their chest, somewhat like a vapor rub. When the Spanish and Mexicans came they shaped it into little cones, would light it and used it as incense in churches. In fact the plant is often called Incensia. It not only is a plant of many utilities, it is beautiful, a great desert plant. It grows slowly, in its natural environment it might grow 1 foot in 120 years. Therefore this plant is a very mature specimen.
Top


LARREA TRIDENTATA (CREOSOTE BUSH) HAS MANY USES. The Cahuilla would make a weak tea and before their first meal would drink a cup for good health. Any kind of stomach problem, make a tea. If made too strong it will make one throw up, so be careful. The power is in the leaves. Dry or fresh, it doesn't matter. It is also effective fighting dandruff. Make an infusion with the leaves, wash your scalp, get rid of dandruff. Colds, congestion, lung problems, boil the leaves, inhale the steam, it will clear you right up. If you have an infected wound make a poultice with the leaves, pack the wound, put a warm stone over it, it draws the infection out, the wound heals faster. Scientists have found that this plant, its leaves, provide one of the strongest antioxidants known to man. In addition it has landscape value, studies have shown that this is one of the most drought tolerant plants known. The plant can go 3 years without rainfall and still survive. During a drought it may look dead but when rain comes they come alive.
Top


FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT A DESERT CROCKPOT -- CLICK HERE
Joe and Rocky next visit an area called Murray Canyon and the home of the Seven Sisters. This is the end of the trail and a waterfall. A desert by definition receives 10 inches or less of rain per year. And, this desert is one of the driest, hottest deserts in North America, it normally receives between 2 to 4 inches per year. But the top of the surrounding mountains receive anywhere from 15 to 30 inches of precipitation and now the snowpack is melting and providing all the water in these falls. When water comes to the surface in a desert it creates an oasis. An oasis is a fertile part in the middle of the desert, a green spot in the middle of the desert. This water provides all the plant life and the plant life attracts the wildlife. So, this is really a paradise in the middle of the desert. We've seen a lot of plants that thrive around water but even when one doesn't see water at the surface, the Indians knew that water was around because of the plants that grew in the area. For example, whenever one sees a Palm tree, there is a spring there as well.
Top


Rocky was worried about what people would think about a garden show in the desert. Most probably think about a garden as something beautiful, colorful, well maintained and manicured and probably wouldn't expect to see this kind of beauty and lushness in a desert setting. But he believes that this is nature's garden, the way the Cahuilla saw it. AND THAT IS ROCKY'S TAKE AWAY - INSTEAD OF LOOKING AT A GARDEN AND SEEING HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS, TRY TO THINK OF HOW USEFUL THE VARIOUS PLANTS MIGHT BE. How can one use them for their existence? If thinking that way, then one might understand how the ancient Cahuilla saw this place. And have an even greater appreciation for the desert.
We know we have a much greater appreciation for the desert after visiting with Rocky and the Indian Canyons. This was one of our all-time favorite shows. Thanks Rocky.
Top



LINKS:

Agua Caliente Spa Resort - Palm Springs

Agua Caliente Band Of Cahuilla Indians

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

Music

Garden Smart Plant List

   
 
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