The whole question about what is a native species is interesting. Native species, whatever they are, are worthy of support. But it’s a confusing and often surprising issue. (In January we had a private tour with the plant curator of the Waimea Park on Oahu’s North Shore. I was shocked at how few of the tropical plants I’d become accustomed to seeing in Hawaii were natives. Most have been introduced. Many with extremely negative impacts on the natives).
Lummi Island seems to have an interesting lack of natives (mammals, for example). We have deer, coyote, river otters, some kind of ground squirrel, mice, rats and voles. Bears, mountain lion, wild goats, skunks and possums are noticeably absent. One wonders if most, if not all of our mammals, were introduced. As far as people go, we don’t have any natives that I’m aware of. (One might be tempted to call our pioneer families “natives” but they are late arrivals not appearing on Lummi Island until after the infamous honey bee arrived in the Western USA).
What, as a practical matter, is a native? What sources do we have to tell us what might have been here long ago? One good source of information on natives is the native—that is the indigenous people who we now in political correctness refer to as “Native Americans.” Most non-native Americans are able to completely ignore Native Americans because the Native Americans have been walled off into geographical ghettos of varying quality around the country. Lummi Islanders, on the other hand, are particularly aware of the native of the human species because of…you know…the ferry thing.
It turns out we have quite a bit to learn from our predecessors on the island about, in the case of this blog post, native plants. A book I keep close at hand is Food Plants of the British Columbia Indians Coastal Peoples by Nancy J. Turner (out of print). From this book we can discover what might be the real native plants. In addition, and more to the point of self-sufficiency and self-reliance, we can learn how the Coastal tribes used these plants as food.
For example, giant kelp (Macrocystis integrifolia) was gathered from canoes and laid on rocks to dry. Before use they were soaked over night then broken into bite-sized pieces boiled in cedar boxes then served with eulachon (candlefish) grease. This sounds pretty much like something Mr. Wetzel might dish up as an amuse bouche at the Willows.
Kinnikinnick leaves were used as a tobacco substitute. Plus they ate the berries.
Hazelnuts were picked in the fall and allowed to ripen completely before eating.
Salal berries were eaten fresh and dried in cakes for winter eating.
Salmonberry and thimbleberry sprouts were great favorites, eaten raw and occasionally steamed. The berries too, of course.
These are just a few of the plants we might be safe in calling “native.” There are dozens more listed in the book: wild rose, berries of all description, additional seaweeds, wild flowers, tree bark, etc.
Whether or not these plants evolved here or not is a question of broad scientific interest and one on which we could spend much time researching given a full stomach and no other pressing basic needs.
More to the point, it is good to know that in our local habitat we could learn to forage as if we were a native. We can begin to act more like natives aware of our surroundings and focused on what might sustain us long term. It would be like The Return of the Native. (Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any similarities between Mr. Hardy’s novel and the theme of this post other than The Return of the Native is one of the great titles of all time).