Western Tribes' Potential Roles in Moving Wild Sunflowers along the Pathway to Domestication

Ethnobotany 2
Date and Time: 
Thursday, 17 March, 2016 - 14:45

A diversity of wild sunflower species in the genera Balsamorhiza, Helianthella, Helianthus, and Wyethia were culturally significant to tribes in the West. Because tribes in California and the Great Basin valued these plants for foods, medicines,  ceremonies and technologies, they applied various harvesting and management practices aimed at reducing consumption of seeds by insects, reducing competition from other species, and generally optimizing the resource. These practices were based on empirically derived knowledge of species’ reproductive biology and habitat needs. Tillage, pruning, and particularly burning increased the level of disturbance to which these species were subjected; removal of seedheads before they were fully ripe may have selected for seed retention; and deliberate sowing and judicious harvesting modified the parameters of reproduction. These practices altered the selective pressures on these species in systematic ways; used over centuries and possibly millennia, they may have been sufficient to move these species some distance toward domestication.