“What our ancestors planted, it’s good to bring here”: Retracing the shared travels of rhubarb and Inuit in Labrador

Date and Time: 
Thursday, 11 May, 2017 - 14:00
Abstract Key Words: 
Ethnobotany, Traditional Foods and Harvest, Genetics
Author(s): 
Smith
, Tyler - Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Oberndorfer
, Erica - Labrador Institute

Rhubarb/Sennâluk (Labrador Inuttitut)/Rheum sp. is a prominent plant in Labrador. It grows in gardens, and persists at former settlement sites through self-seeding. Native to Asia, rhubarb was likely introduced by Moravian missionaries in the late 18th century at Labrador mission stations as a medicinal plant, and has since become a valuable local food plant that has been widely shared and transplanted along the Labrador coast. Combining oral family stories and microsatellite markers, we have started to look at how the “genealogy” of Labrador rhubarb is tied to relationships, travels and sharing among families in northern and central Labrador. Our preliminary results show several rhubarb genetic clusters. One cluster corresponds to recently introduced commercial stock. However, the distribution of alleles in the other clusters is consistent with oral histories documenting the exchange of plants through extensive family networks that may trace back to the original Moravian introductions.