• Nez Perce National Historical Park. Front Page banner photograph is of Heart of the Monster, an ancient place where the Nez Perce creation story originates. The secondary page photograph is of Nez Perce beadwork.

    Nez Perce

    National Historical Park ID,MT,OR,WA

Plants

Big Hole National Battlefield

Lodgepole pine forests cover the uplands and wetland species cover lowlands at Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana.

NPS photo

Traditional Nez Perce culture was closely tied with the natural world, and plants had great importance materially and spiritually. Understanding Nez Perce relationships with plant communities can contribute to the overall understanding of Nez Perce culture, including subsistence, technology, medicine, spiritual matters, settlement patterns, travels, social organization, and relationships with other groups historically and today.

Plants contributed to traditional Nez Perce culture in both material and spiritual dimensions. Plant foods provided over half of the dietary calories, with winter survival depending largely on dried roots, especially kouse (Lomatium spp.) and camas (Camassia quamash). Techniques for preparing and storing winter foods enabled people to survive times of colder winters with little or no fresh foods. Favorite fruits dried for winter were serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia), huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum), elderberries (Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa), and chokecherries (Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa). Nez Perce textiles were made primarily from dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), tules (Scirpus acutus), and western redcedar (Thuja plicata). The most important industrial woods were redcedar, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), willow (Salix exigua), and hard woods such as yew (Taxus brevifolia) and syringa (Philadelphus lewisii).

 
lomatiums on basalt cliffs

Lomatiums are flowers in the carrot family and are very strong smelling.

NPS photo

Since the end of the twentieth century, Euroamerican settlement in the Nez Perce homeland seriously restricted Nez Perce access to traditional plant resources. In the nineteenth century, missionaries and the United States government advocated that the Nez Perce people abandon their traditional ways and become sedentary farmers. Agricultural development, aggressive weed species, extensive grazing and land alterations have eliminated and further impacted persisting populations of traditional food plants. Nez Perce people were forced to adopt a Euroamerican diet because of restrictions on their movements and degeneration or destruction of traditional food plant habitats. Nonetheless, many contemporary Nez Perce people include traditional foods in their diet today.

Nez Perce people have always incorporated technological elements of other cultures into their own. For example, as native dogbane became less available to them, they began using commercial hemp twine, commercial string, and disassembled gunnysacks to weave their soft flat bags. Some contemporary Nez Perce people use commercial dyes and synthetic yarns and experiment with techniques and materials characteristic of groups from other geographic areas.

 
Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman's breeches is a perennial herbaceous plant with a disjunct population in the Columbia River Basin.

NPS Photo

Plants

English Name

Nez Perce Name

camas

chockecherry

dogbane

Douglas fir

elderberry

huckleberry

kouse

ponderosa pine

q'emes

ti'ms

qeemu

pa'ps

mi'ttip

cemi'tk

qaws

la'qa

serviceberry

syringa

kel

sise'qiy

tule

to'ko

western redcedar

tala'tat

willow

ta'xs

yew

ta'mqay



Did You Know?

Josiah Redwolf, the last survivor of the 1877 Nez Perce War in 1968 with the Big Hole Superintendent. NPS Photo NEPE-HI-3044.

Josiah Red Wolf was five years old when the 1877 war began. His parents were killed at the Battle of Big Hole in Montana. He returned to Big Hole at the age of 91 to help dedicate the new visitor center in 1968.