Native flora (plants)
Native fauna (animals)
Reptiles and amphibians
Invasive species (floral and faunal)
Mississippi Alluvial Valley Biology
Native Flora (plants)
Posted 1 January 2007
Ash (Fraxinus sps.),
including green or swamp ash (F. pennsylvanica) carolina or water ash (F.
caroliniana) and white ash (F. americana). White Ash
is a large straight tree up to 80’ (24m) high and diameter up to 2’. The flower
clusters appear before the leaves; there are separate male and female trees.
Leaves are opposite pinnate compound. The clusters of keys appear in late
summer/fall. The tree prefers deep well-drained loam on valleys and slopes.
The wood is of commercial value for tools and sporting equipment. Carolina,
Water or Popash sometimes has multiple trunks often enlarged at base. It is
smaller than white ash but flowers, leaves and keys are similar. Carolina ash
is better adapted to wet swamp and seasonally flooded soils. The wood is of
little value. Green ash, also known as Swamp or Water ash, has a
similar structure and vegetation to other ashes. It is widely found on stream
banks in floodplain forests. It will also grow rapidly in less favorable
settings such as Plains wind breaks and mine spoil dumps (Little 1995:
647-652). Straight, flexible poles of ash were used structurally in prehistoric
houses and for tool handles. Lorenz (1996:185) reports ash charcoal in all old
Hoover mound (22-Ho-902) contexts except from the small sample from the
bottomland (Big Black River) camp. It is overall one of the most common
charcoal types. In Choctaw, the ash is shinap (Byington 1909).
Beech (Fagus grandifolia).
This large spreading tree reaches 60’ to 80’ high and has trunk diameters up to
2 ½’. It is remarkable for its smooth light grey bark and leaves that remain on
the tree all winter until new growth pushes them off. The male and female
flowers appear with the leaves. Beech occurs frequently in pure stands as the
tree propagates from root shoots. It favors rich valley soils in uplands or
well-drained lowland soils. The small nuts are contained in a ½” – ¾” prickly
burr that cracks open in the fall. The
beech nuts are edible (Little 1995:380-381). The fruit matures September to
November. Beechnuts are a favorite food of squirrel, bear, coon, quail, wood
duck, turkey, dove, flying squirrel, chipmunk, crow, blue jay, woodpecker,
nuthatch, titmice, grossbeak and purple finch. The vegetation is browsed by
deer, and beaver sometime eat the bark (Hunter 1989:48). In Choctaw, the beech
is hatombalaha; the beechnut is hatombalaha ani (Byington 1909:392).
The French Hetre is applied to the European and American beeches. It has
limited commercial use because larger trees tend to be hollow. Hetre is
more valuable as a wildlife food Beech is seldom used as an ornamental because
it is difficult to transplant, and it is decreasing in abundance in many areas
as it is culled by foresters (Holmes 1990:71-72). tc "Beech (Fagus
grandifolia). This large spreading tree reaches 60’ to 80’ high and has
trunk diameters up to 2 ½’. It is remarkable for its smooth light grey bark and
leaves that remain on the tree all winter until new growth pushes them off. The
male and female flowers appear with the leaves. The small nuts are contained in
a ½” – ¾” prickly burr that cracks open
in the fall. Beech occurs frequently in pure stands as the tree propagates from
root shoots. It favors rich valley soils in uplands or well-drained lowland
soils. The beech nuts are edible, and are largely eaten by squirrels, coons,
bears, and birds (Little 1995\: 380-381). Beechnuts are a favorite food of
squirrel, bear, coon, quail, wood duck, turkey, dove, flying squirrel, chipmunk,
crow, blue jay, woodpecker, nuthatch, titmice, grossbeak and purple finch. It
is browsed by deer, and beaver sometime eat the bark. The fruit matures
September to November (Hunter 1989\: 48). The French Hetre is applied
to the European and American beeches. It has limited commercial use because
larger trees tend to be hollow. Hetre is more valuable as a wildlife
food. Hetre is seldom used as an ornamental because it is difficult to
transplant, and it is decreasing in abundance in many areas as it is culled by
foresters (Holmes 1990\: 71-72). " \l 3
Birch (Betula nigra).
This is a generally small waterside tree. Small amounts of birch charcoal are
reported by Lorenz (1996:185) at the Mississippian Old Hoover Mound (22-Ho-502).
In Choctaw, the birch is opahaksun, the same as the word for fossil
oyster shells; opi means to helve or haft, hakshup refers to all
forms of skin, bark or shucks; the tree is noted as growing on riverbanks
(Byington 1909:306, 394).
Bodoc, osage orange, hedge or
horse apple (Maclura pomifera). This medium, thorny tree is related
to the mulberries. The milky sap is slightly toxic and thorn punctures often
fester. The very durable tough wood is red to orange and yellow; roots also
have orange inner bark. The bark and roots have been used for dye (yellow or
olive drab) and it was once widely cut for army uniform dye. There are separate
male and female trees. The large compound green fruit (hence the name Osage
“orange” or hedge “apple”) has many nutlets and a dense flesh. The “apples” like
the milky sap are considered toxic and
are rarely eaten by animals, but some seeds are eaten by squirrels, quail,
finches (Hunter 1989: 66). In contrast to Hunter (1989), Holmes (1990: 97-98)
considers it a valuable wildlife food. The fruit can be used as an insect
The bodoc is
not native to the mid-South, and evidently it had a very limited range in east
Texas ca. 1600-1700. It is one of the best North American bow woods; the common
name comes from a corruption of the French bois d’ arc. Bois d´ arc
wood is very hard and very difficult to work but extremely springy. It makes
very powerful bows, even when short, so it was widely traded to Plains tribes.
The tree was widespread in the Pleistocene and apparently had a decreasing range
after the extinction of the Pleistocene North American horse and ground sloth;
but began to spread with the reintroduction of Spanish horses (Little 1995:
429-430). Arkansas Archeological Survey archaeologist Frank Schambach has
created an elaborate interpretation of late prehistory based largely on the
Caddos’ apparent control of this vital resource. Allely and Hamm (1999:74-79,
92, 94-95, 96-99) report bodoc bows from the Creek, Yuchi, Chickasaw and
Choctaw. They note that their illustrated Mississippi Chickasaw bow was brought
by deportees to Oklahoma. In the nineteenth century, the tree was widely
introduced to provide fencing on the treeless Plain as wellas throughout the
South; in the South, fence posts planted often take root and grow into hedge
rows. Bodoc is not shade tolerant, so its presence in dense forests is an
indication of former clearance.
bignonioides (South) or Catalpa speciosa(North)). This small
tree was also called Indian bean for the long (10-15”) fruit. No name for
catalpa was collected by Byington (1909), but the Choctaw katapa, to
divide, split, separate, is a good description for the way the catalpa bean
opens. The “cigarlike” bean splits to spread many small winged seeds. This tree
has a short trunk and irregular spreading branches. The flowers are large,
flagrant, and white so the tree while not otherwise elegant in form is often
planted in yards. The Catalpa prefers moist soil in openings such as suburbs
and roadsides. The northern, hardier, variant
grows somewhat larger, but is of similar form and habitat (Little 1995:
663-665). Northern catalpa (C. speciosa) is distinguished from southern
(C. bignonioides) by the small flowers and lack of unpleasant odor of the
former. Catalpa is of minor importance as deer browse (Hunter 1989: 168). The
French name bois puant used throughout southern and central prairies
means “stinking wood.” It is believed that the flowers and even inhaled odor of
C. speciosa is poisonous to some people. The catalpa sphinx moth larva
or “worm” which strips the leaves is considered a prime fish bait (Holmes 1990:
Cedar. Blue, 2-3 mm berries high in Vitamin C. MCRA, Arkansas
Ozarks. Fall 2006.
distichum). This often huge (100-120’ tall; 3-5’ diameter) deciduous
needle-leaf tree is remarkable for the “knees” or
aerial roots that allow it to grow in
stagnant water. The knees generally do not form if the trees grow on dry sites.
The fibrous bark, which easily peels off in long
strips, had various prehistoric and historic uses including roofing,
packing, and twining. The tree reproduces by round,
tarry cones that shed in fall and decay
into angular seeds. Cypress is a highly valuable timber that often occurs in
pure stands. The heartwood in particular is decay resistant and has
traditionally been used for piles and sills, as well as interior paneling
(Little 1995:302-303). Cypress is monoecious (male and female flowers on the
same tree). It pollinates February through April; the cones mature September
through November. The 1” diameter balls or cones are eaten by cranes and a few
other birds. The needles are occasionally browsed by deer. In addition to being
rot-resistant, the wood cleaves easily and is easily worked (Holmes 1990:4-5),
making it of special importance to Stone Age cultures. The Dalton adze indicates
that dugout canoes may have been made as early as the end of the Pleistocene.
This large water-growing tree, highly decay resistant especially in wet uses,
easily worked or riven, was used especially for canoes and large timbers.
Prehistoric and historic dugout canoes were generally made of cypress, and it is
also used in wet locations such as piers, structural foundations and other
boats. Other uses of the lumber include shingles,
cooperage, railroad ties, pallets and
caskets (Hunter 1989: 26). Allely and Hamm (1999:70-73) report a Seminole bow
made of cypress wood. This seems an unusual use. Most of the highly valuable
wood has been harvested throughout South, Central and North America. The
Acadian term cypre comes from French cypres. A cypress swamp is
termed a cypière; the knees are called
boscuillots. The Choctaw for cypress
is shankolo (Byington 1909).
The cypress is one of the distinctive
trees of the Gulf region--occurring from Mexico to Virginia. It is a high value,
slow growing, rot-resistant aromatic evergreen that can reach enormous size, and
so are subject to damage from lightening. The snag tops are often nests for
ospreys and other eagles. They progress from a pine-or-cedar-like conical young
tree to a vast, angular, and rambling tree of several centuries. A
platform must sometimes be built above the expanded, buttressed base for workers
felling these trees. It was the favored tree for the fire and adze hollowed
dugout of prehistoric and historic times. They grow in standing or seasonal
water and have the famous system of knees that allow the tree's roots to
breathe. In warmer regions, it is often parasitized by hanging moss. The wood is
easily worked and very straight-grained. The bark is reddish and fiberous and
the leaves are small, delicate, light green fronds of needles. The cypress
produces small, gummy, ball-like seed cones that spread by floating. Cypress
trees have been used for the development of regional dendrochronological climate
histories and calibrations of the radiocarbon decay curve.
--University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff slide
deltoides virginiana). Called Carolina, Eastern, or Southern
Cottonwood, it is related to the poplars, aspens
and willows. This tree grows very large (100’ high, 4’ diameter). It is
remarkable for deeply furrowed ropy bark,
rapid growth and leaves that yellow and rattle
in the fall. Beaver favor cottonwood bark as a food source. The Latin name
derives from the triangular leaf form. The twigs are
resinous. Male and female catkins occur
on separate trees. Flowers form March through May, and seeds mature May-June.
Cottonwood spreads by its tiny downy airborne seeds. The chains of seed capsules
open and fluffy “cotton” carrying the seed is released in late spring through
late summer. Some birds eat the seeds, and twigs are browsed by deer.
Cottonwood favors stream banks and pioneers sand bars and bare floodplain
settings. It is one of the rare trees of the Plains states, and a good
indicator of the presence of water; in the Southern floodplains, its rapid
growth and soft, fibrous, white wood makes it useful for temporary or rough uses
like plywood, cross-ties, boxes, pallets and lathe-work. This soft,
fast-growing tree has not traditionally been managed as a major timber species,
although the wood is suitable for pulp plantations. A small amount of cottonwood
charcoal is reported by Lorenz (1996:158) in the occupation area surrounding the
Mississippi Period old Hoover Mound (22-Ho-502) in the nearby Big Black basin.
The Choctaw for cottonwood is ashumbala (Byington 1909:61). Indians
sometimes used the cottonwood for canoes as it grows large and is easy to
hollow. French Colonial cotonnier is also used for the sycamore.
Liard is more common; it appears to come from the Maine-Anjou dialect for
“poplar.” The soft weak wood has few commercial uses, besides pulpwood (Little
1995:322-323, Holmes 1990: 121, Hunter 1989: 34).
Elm (Ulmus sps.);
winged elm (U. alata) and American elm (U. americana). (Also
known by Creek name wahoo in the east). Winged elm is a small to medium tree
with saw tooth elliptical leaves and distinctive thin brown bark with broad
corky wings on twigs. The clusters of green flowers appear early in spring and
the round keys or samaras also mature
early in spring. This hardwood forest species is common in old fields on dry
uplands as well as in wetter valley soils. In the 18th and 19th
century, the bark was twisted into rope for baling cotton. American elm is a
larger tree, often with a swollen base and drooping branches. It grows to 100’
in contrast to around 50’ for winged elm. The bark is similarly furrowed but
lacks the distinctive wings on smaller growth. Flowers and keys are similar.
This was once a very common tree, particularly in floodplain forests and for
urban planting, but has been largely destroyed by a fungal disease introduced
from Europe ca. 1930. Young trees still sprouting from old
stumps are still found. American elm was
a valuable tree for paneling and lathe-work such as in furniture (Little 1995:
418-419). Elm has frequently been recovered as a structural member in
prehistoric houses. Elm is often a primarily understory species in wet
locations. Elms bloom in late winter. Species are distinguished by
characteristics of the samaras (winged
seed). These are eaten by song birds, quail, turkey and wood duck. Squirrels
eat elm buds in the spring and deer, rabbit and muskrat browse the plants
(Hunter 1989: 62-64). The Choctaw for red elm is tohto (Byington
Hackberry (C. occidentalis)
or sugarberry, sugar hackberry (Celtis laevigata). Hackberry is one
of several North American Celtis
species. This fast growing tree is common in pastures, old fields and urban
wasteland. It grows to 80’ high and 1 ½’ in diameter. The thin, grey bark is
marked by large corky warts. The male and female flowers appear under the new
leaves in spring. The fruit is 1/4" red
or purple one-seed drupe with a tart,
sweet taste widely consumed by birds. This species grows on clay and marl
soils, and can be found in pine or mixed hardwood stands in floodplains. The
wood is cut for plywood and furniture (Little 1995:412-413). Hackberry and
Sugarberry are distinguished by the serration of hackberry leaves; sugarberry
leaves are also longer and more slender. Many birds consume the fruit.
Squirrel and fox consume hackberry fruit to a limited extent; deer browse the
twigs and beaver eat the bark. The wood of both species is used for crates,
boxes, veneer, plywood, pallets and some furniture (Hunter 1989:62).
Hackberry/sugarberry is a soft and fast-growing tree. It produces many small
nutlets that are eaten by many wildlife species. The Colonial French name
bois connu comes from the Norman dialect, and refers to the warts or
“horns.” This fast growing wood is used for cheap furniture, posts and boxes
(Holmes 1990: 131). Hackberry wood is not distinguishable from other elms in
archaeological collections of charcoal.
including pecan (Carya illinoensis), bitter pecan (C. aquatica),
bitternut hickory (C. cordiformis), pignut hickory (C. glabra),
shagbark hickory (C. ovata), mockernut (C. tomentosa) and black
walnut (Juglans nigra). There are any species; all have edible nuts,
variable quality and difficulty of processing. Nuts were crushed and boiled to
produce hickory milk, a cooking oil. Hard burned nut hull fragments some of the
most durable plant remains, commonly recovered even on Archaic sites. Walnut
hulls were used to produce a black dye for materials such as cane basketry
splints as well as fish poison. In contrast to the thin cultivated Old World
walnut, black walnut shells are particularly thick and hard. The Carya
species produce flexible very strong poles. Bark of some species suitable is for
ties when young. Hickory is very common in the Pearl River floodplain. Its
modern dominance as a canopy as well as understory species may be because it is
not considered as valuable a timber species as oaks, and because the nuts are
more viable after timber cutting than oak acorns. Hickories were the most
commonly observed species in the Pearl River floodplain. Like other hickories,
it grows large and has leaves that turn yellow in the fall. Pignut has thick
hulls and small meats. It is more indicative of higher and drier locations.
Hickory is a preferred wood for tools but otherwise is of little commercial
value. It is also popular for smoking meat, and
formerly, had other industrial uses, such as wheel spokes.
Hickories: Pecan. Spring
flowers. Sledge, Quitman Co., MS. 2007.
said to derive from “paw cohiccora”, one name for the oily food made from
pounded nuts boiled and skimmed. The oil was used, among other things, for
cooking cornbreads and hominy. Shellbark or Big Shagbark hickory is rare; it
has more pairs of leaflets and a round, thick-hulled, edible nut meat. It
prefers a moist or wet environment. Scaly bark, Shellbark or Shagbark hickory (C.
ovata) is found in floodplain and upland settlings. The nut is diagnosed by
its angular form and thick hull. The bark has been used for a yellow dye
(Little 1995: 344-353). Hickory, mockernut or white hickory (C. tomentosa)
has less markedly ridged or separating bark. The thick hulls cover a
thick-shelled nut that can only be practically used for hickory oil or milk.
This very common species is used for furniture, flooring, veneer, and tools, as
well as charcoal/cooking wood. Squirrels are the main consumers of the very
thick nut. Black walnut (Juglans nigra) grows into a large tree. The
slow-growing species produces a highly valuable timber for furniture, veneer,
and gun stocks. The nuts are thick but produce high quality nut meat. The
thick hull does not split open and has been used for black-grey dye as well as
fish poison (Little 1995:355-357, 358-359). Walnut is commonly planted in
yards. Nuts of most hickories are ready by July/August. They are widely
consumed by squirrels, chipmunks and bear. Deer also browse the twigs. Water
Hickory/Bitter Pecan (C. aquatica), Bitternut (C. cordiformis) and
Sweet Pecan (C. Illinoensis) are used for flooring, paneling, furniture,
wedges, boxes and cabinet work. The other true hickories have tougher wood and
are used for tool handles, outdoor furniture, basketry, walking canes and
similar uses. Water Hickory/Bitter Pecan provides food for squirrels, ducks and
a few other wildlife species. It occurs in overflow lands with overcup oak.
The wood is of poor quality. Bitternut is of limited value as wildlife food; it
is also found on low, moist sites. Pecan can grow into huge trees. It has been
developed into many cultivars that are widely planted from Georgia to New
Mexico. Wild pecans have smaller nuts with thicker shells. Pecan provides food
for many species including turkey, most game and fur bearing animals, crow,
cardinal, bluejay, woodpecker, grackle, wren, titmice, chickadees, nut hatches,
and it also provides browse for deer. Shell bark/kingnut (c.
laciniosa) has 2 ½” fruits with very
thick, smooth hulls and yellow, sweet kernels. It is also a floodplain
species. Shagbark Hickory (c. ovata)
is the most widespread southern Hickory; young trees have smooth bark in
contrast to the light grey, long, loose plates of older trees. It is more of an
upland species. Mockernut (c. tomentosa) has thick nut shells, hence its
common name, but its meat is sweet. It is widely fed on by woodpeckers. Black
walnut has distinctive very hard, dark wood. Squirrels eating walnuts can be
noted by the black “mustache” stains around their mouths. It is not important
to deer, but some songbirds eat cracked walnut nuts. Besides gunstocks and
high-value furniture, walnut is used in veneer, paneling, flooring, cabinetry
and musical instruments. The slow growth of the tree limits its value in
commercial planting, so its price continues to rise (Hunter 1989:40-44).
noyer refers mostly to walnut but sometimes to other hickories. Its use as
a yard tree is limited by its tendancy to limit the growth of other plants,
especially tomatoes and peppers. Ikr, or Ikre’ is more commonly
used for hickories. It apparently derives from the same Algonquian word
pawchoiccora, which also produced “hickory.” As Holmes (1990: 77) notes,
“The hickories are a very difficult group” and the typical forms seem to
intergrade in practice. The French Colonial term for pecan pacanier
(tree) and pacane (nut) derives from an Algonquian name; bitter pecan (pacanier
amer) is also called hog pecan (pacanier d’ cochons) and it is not
known to be used as a human food source. (Holmes 1990: 76-79). Byington
(1909:358) records numerous Choctaw words for the hickories and their products:
Oksuk or uksuk api refers to the tree, uksak foni is the
nut shell (foni, bone), uksak hata is the white hickory nut and
uksak hahe is a walnut (haha api, walnut tree), uksak nipi is
the nut meat (nipi, meat), uksak ulhkomo is hickory milk and
uksak atlhanta is hickory mush. Hickory is widely reported as a bow wood.
Allely and Hamm (1999: 74-79, 82-83, 96-99) illustrate Tuscarora Yuchi, Creek,
Catalba and Choctaw bows of hickory.
American walnut. Young tree,
bark, nuts in green hull. MCRA, Arkansas Ozarks. Fall 2006.
American holly. Thorny stiff leaves and berries eaten by birds. MCRA, Arkansas
Ozarks. Fall 2006.
Hornbeam, (blue beech,
ironwood or water beech (Carpinus caroliniana)). This small tree or shrub
has angular trunks and fluted slender spreading branches. It grows up to 30’
high but when observed was commonly much smaller. The common name blue beech
comes from the smooth blue-grey bark color in contrast to the brown bark of the
Eastern Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana). Male and female flowers appear
early in spring and the paired, elliptical, hairy nuts enclosed in a leaf-like
scale, appear in late summer. This hardwood understory plant is common in moist
rich soils, particularly along streams. The wood is extremely tough, hence, the
common name (shared with the highly similar hop hornbeam) ironwood. The “beech”
names allude to leaves very similar to those of the beech, but the bush is more
closely related to birches. Commercial use is almost nil, but, it may have been
used prehistorically for ax or other tool handles. It is a favored deer browse,
and quail and other ground birds eat the nuts. (Little 1995: 372-373). This
generally small tree has very dense wood. It has no modern economic uses, but is
common along stream banks. Choctaw for ironwood is itukawiloha / itukahioha
or iyanabi, the latter also denoting witch hazel (Byington 1909:217,
Ironwood/Blue Beech (Carpinus
caroliniana) is often described as “muscular.” It is a monoecious
plant. Leaves stay on the plant during winter and turn pale and papery like
beech leaves. The nutlets are eaten by squirrel, quail and some other birds.
The leaves and bark are eaten by rabbits, beaver and deer (Hunter 1989: 46).
Industrial use is limited to cases where very hard handles or moving parts are
needed. The fruit matures from May to October.
Locust (sweet, honey or
thorny locust, Gleditsia triacanthus). Locust is a large
spreading tree with large, stout clusters of thorns. Locust is a legume and
produces a large flat brown pod filled with sweet edible pulp surrounding
bean-like brown seeds. These are eaten and thus spread by cattle, coyotes, and
other animals. This old field and pasture species is found from dry
limestone uplands to moist floodplain.
It is used for fence posts, and for hot-burning firewood. Locusts are related
to other leguminous trees such as red bud, mesquites, and Kentucky coffee tree
(Little 1995: 523-524). The fruit is eaten by deer, rabbits, squirrels, small
mammals, birds such as quail as well as cattle. The leaf lets are browsed by
deer. The pods mature September through December (Hunter 1989: 108). French
Colonial names are piquant amourelle (“thorn of transient love”) or
piquant morte raide (thorn causing tetanus) which refers to the badly
festering wounds, fever and stiffness or hardened flesh caused by thorn
punctures. The Choctaw for honey locust is kati (Byington 1909:493).
Locust is a major honey plant. The thorns have been used as nails and pins.
Indians reportedly ate the sweet pulp of the young pods; they become bitter when
mature. The pulp has also reportedly been used to produce alcoholic liquor
(Holmes 1990: 87-88). Locust is widely reported as a bow wood. Allely and Hamm
(1999: 74-79, 87-91) illustrate Creek and Oklahoma Cherokee bows made of black
locust. Little locust was observed in the project area, but it was occasionally
noted along the upland edges of the floodplain. This species has commonly been
used as fence posts and was favored as a hot-burning cook-stove wood. The large
thorns make it resistant to browsing, so it often is found in pastured land.
Magnolia. The commonly planted southern magnolia was the only magnolia
species noted in the project area. Most are upland species and those observed
in the project area are probably derived from planted specimens. The smaller
sweet bay/swamp bay/swamp magnolia (M.
virginiana); cucumbertree or pyramid magnolia (M.
pyramidata); and big leaf or
silver leaf magnolia (M. macrophylla)
are to be expected in this area as well.. In the GLO records, magnolia
is referred to as ‘bull bay.’ The magnolia is a dense
conical evergreen known for its highly
fragrant large white flowers. The tree can grow to 60’ to 80’ high and 2 to 3’
diameter. The cone-like fruit contains many red two-seeded fruits. Magnolia
favors moist valley and upland soils and
occurs mixed with other hardwoods. It is spread by birds consuming the fruit.
The Southern Magnolia, like Chinese species, has been spread worldwide as an
ornamental, and there are variously horticultural varieties and hybrids. The
wood has some use in furniture, cabinet work, doors and boxes (Little
1995:437-445). French Colonials used magnolia branches in place of palm
branches on Good Friday processions, hence, it common Gulf Coastal name
rameau or bois de rameaux. The decay resistant wood has been used as
crossties (Holmes 1990: 93-94). The Choctaw for bay or magnolia is kothlaha;
the rattling of the leaves gives the verb/gerund for rattling or rustling,
kotlhahachi (Byington 1909:237, 495).
Maples: Boxelder (A.negundo);
red, scarlet or swamp maple (A. rubrum); silver, soft or white maple (A.
saccharinum) There are several species, and they are often early
colonizer of new wetlands soils. Several dense pure stands of maple were noted
on new, silty land. Maples are generally small to medium deciduous trees.
Boxelder is distinguished by the pinate compound leaves although it has paired
keys as other maples. This is a weedy species although valuable on the plains
as a fast growing but short-lived shade/winebreak tree, and formerly used as
other maples to produce syrup from sap. Boxelder as other maples prefers wet
to moist settings, particularly along streams, and colonizes wasteland and
roadsides. Red maple is a large tree with the typical lobed leaf of other
maples. The reddish flowers appear in late winter and the paired keys mature in
the spring. This species favors swampy sites but can be found on drier
uplands. It is widely planted in yards. Ink and dye have been made from the
bark. Silver maple is a straggling, soft, brittle tree. The sap yield is lower
than northern species. The flowers are greenish and the keys have matured in
springtime. This is a stream bank, floodplain and swamp species. Better
(harder) maples have various industrial uses, particularly veneer, where burl
and birdeye wood is highly valued (Little 1995: 570-581). Boxelder flowers in
April or May and the keys mature from June through early winter. The seeds are
eaten by grosbeak, finch and some other birds and squirrels. It also provides
deer browse and bark for beavers. This softwood is used for boxes, crates,
pulpwood, cross-ties, furniture and woodenware. It favors low sites near water
(Hunter 1989: 126). French colonials and Acadiens referred to Acer rubrum
as Erable, standard French for maple (Holmes 1990:28-29). Byington
(1909:112) notes that the Choctaw distinguished between hard maple (chukchu
chito or chukchu imoshi, chito, big; imoshi, uncle) and
the more common soft maple (chukchu); he also recorded chukchu hapi
champuli (hapi, salt, champuli, honey, sweetness) for maple
sugar. Red and silver maple provide deer and rabbit browse. Squirrels eat the
seeds and beaver the bark. Some birds eat the seeds. As soft (silver maple)
grows fast and develops cavities used for nests by owls and squirrels as well as
coon, and possum (Hunter 1989:126-128). Small amounts of maple charcoal are
reported by Lorenz (1996:158) from testing Mississippian contexts at and near
Old Hoover Mound (22-Ho-502).
Mulberry (Morus sps.).
There are common introduced mulberries, particularly white or silkworm
mulberries (M. albus), but the main native species of the eastern
U.S., the red mulberry, is a medium-sized spreading tree with rough, hairy
leaves and fissured bark. The cylindrical dark red/purple fruit is sweet and
juicy. It ripens early in summer and people, animals and birds eat the fruit,
which may ferment on the tree, and make birds drunk. The wood has been used for
fence posts, furniture, paneling and tools. Choctaws made cloth from the
fibrous inner bark of shoots (Little 1995:432-433). The standard French
murier (mulberry tree) is less common in the Gulf South than éronce.
The name mure refers to mulberry fruit as well as dewberry. Byington
(1909:88,504) records bihi api/bihapi as the Choctaw for mulberry tree.
The berry can be eaten fresh or made into jellies and jams but it is little used
by humans. The light and durable wood has been used for fenceposts and barrel
stares. It was an important fiber for native cloth weaving (Holmes
1990:98-99). Red mulberry (Morus rubra) in the project area appears to
be largely escaped from intentional lawn plantings. The fruit is very sweet and
similar in appearance to blackberries. Many birds flock to the trees to feast
on the ripe fruit. Many mammals also eat them, and deer will browse the leaves
and twigs. Beaver eat mulberry bark (Hunter 1989:66).
Oaks (Quercus sps.).
Many species indicative of a wide range of habitats were noted, they are
difficult to identify to the species level from small charred specimens. The
Quercus species are generally divided into white oaks (white oak (Q.
alba), overcup oak (Q. lyrata) and cow or swamp white oak (Q.
michauxii)) and red oaks (water oak (Q. nigra or
aquaticus), willow oak (Q. phellos), Nutall oak (Q. nuttallii),
laurel oak (Q. laurifolia), cherrybark red oak (Q. pagoda),
and Shumard red oak (Q. shumardii)). Also: post oak (Q.
stellata), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), chinkapin oak (Q.
muehlenbergii), black oak (Q. velutina), red or Spanish oak (Q.
falcata or flacata var. pagodafolia), pin oak (Q. palustris),
blackjack oak (Q. marilandica). Some oaks produce acorns edible by
humans, although they require various forms of processing to remove tannins.
They may have been a major prehistoric food source, along with hickories. Acorns
are a main fall food source for deer and turkeys, and in historic times, cattle
and hogs were also fattened on acorns. These hardwoods are the main modern
economic resource of the project area.
frame of civilization.
William Bryant Logan, 2005, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York. 336
pps., acknowledgements, bibliography, index, 31 black and white
illustrations. Paperback, $15.95.
White or stave
oak (Q. alba) is the main timber species in the white oak group.
This is a large (100’ high, 3’ to 4’ diameter) typically straight tree with a 1
to 3 cm. long oval acorn with a shallow cup. It can be found in pure strands,
but it is diminished to the favor of hickories by selective cutting. The white
oak can be found on uplands or lowlands and is a high-grade lumber species. The
common name, stave oak, comes from its use in whisky and wine barrels. This was
once an important ship building tree. (Little 1995: 382-383). Southern red
oak (Q. falcata) was once commonly called Spanish oak and it
often occurs in GLO records under this name. It is also called swamp red
oak. Its common habitat is on sand or clay loam soils, although it is more
common on uplands than better drained low lands. Cherry bark oak is
considered a variant or southern swamp oak, Red oak (var. pagodifolia).
The lumber is marketed with other red oaks. The tendency to broad, furrowed
ridges and plates is more pronounced on the bark of cherry bark oak. The small
nuts ( ½”) are elliptical and 1/3 or more enclosed in a cup; they take 2 years
to mature. Overcup/Swamp Post/Waterwhite oak (Q. lyrata) is the
main oak of southern swamplands. It tolerates poorly drained wet day soils.
Overcup oak acorns are completely enclosed and mature in one year. The acorns
are large (1/2” to 1”). Swamp chestnut/basket/cow oak (Q. michauxii)
produces the sweetest of the white acorn; it is edible raw and the large (1” to
1 ¼” acorn) is one-third to one-half enclosed in a hairy cup; it matures in one
year. The wood was valuable for cotton basket splints; it splits easily and
fibers were sometime woven for other purposes. It was also favored as cattle
and hog forage. Water oak/spotted oak/possum oak (Q. nigra) is a
large, straight-growing oak with small (3/8” to 5/8”) acorns that are round,
with a shallow cup, and take two years to mature. As the main common names
implies; it favors moist to wet soils in low lands, swamps and along streams and
often occurs with sweetgum. It grows fast but is short-lived and is widely
planted as a shade tree. Nuttall oak/ Red oak/Pin oak (Q. nuttallii)
is a favored tree for wetland planting as it produces large crops of nuts for
deer and turkey forage. Nuttall oak is marked by its swollen base and open
crown with drooping branches. The ¾” to 1 ¼” acorns are oblong, striped and ¼”
to ½” enclosed by a broad cup; it takes two years to mature. Nuttall naturally
forms pure strands on wet clay soils. Willow oak/Pin oak/Peach oak (Q.
Phellos) is a large, conical tree with a 3/8” to ½” round acorn with a
shallow cup; it takes two years to mature. Willow oak grows in wet floodplains
and along streams, sometimes in pure strands. It is widely planted as a shade
tree and is an important source of food for squirrels, deer and turkey (Little
or willow oak. Yokona River bottom, Taylor, Lafayette Co., MS. 2007.
Chene is used for all oaks; an oak grove is known as a cheniere.
White oak is known as chene gris (Holmes 1990:70-71). White oaks provide
annual crops of sweet acorns. Squirrel, deer, bear, turkey, quail and other
large birds feed on White Oak acorns. It is also an important plant for deer
browse. Overcup oak acorns are eaten by ducks in overflow areas, and deer
browse young plants. Swamp chestnut oak also provides acorns for turkey, deer,
bear and squirrel. It is a major indicator for the fine, textured soil on
bottomland terraces. Red oaks have bitter acorns that are generally small and
take two years to mature. The Southern Red or Spanish Oak produces acorns for
deer, bear, squirrel, turkey, bluejay, thrasher, sapsucker, woodpecker, chipmunk
and flying squirrel. Cherry Bark Oak (Q. falcata v. pagodifolia) has
longer leaves with more lobes than Spanish Oak (Q. f.v. facata) and is
one of the better quality red oaks for timber. Water Oak (Q. nigra) and
Willow Oak (Q. phellus) are similar in habitat and timber uses. The
small acorns are widely eaten by ducks, as well as squirrel, deer, coon, turkey,
quail, dove, grey fox, bear and many large birds. Willow Oak favors drier sites
than Water Oak. Both are widely planted as shade trees. The Choctaw
distinguished among the various oaks. Blackjack is chiskilik, overcup oak
is bashto, post oak is chisha, Spanish oak is chiltpatha,
white oak is baii; other forms were recorded without specific
attribution; an acorn is nusi (nusi, asleep, dormant) (). Acorns
were recovered at Old Hoover Mound (22-Ho-502) and its associated terrace hamlet
and upland farmstead, and oak charcoal is also common at these Mississippi
Period sites (Lorenz 1996: 158). (Byington 1909:287, 382, 508; Hunter 1989:50-58
Oaks. Various species' acorns found with a few acres tract. MCRA, Arkansas
Ozarks. Fall 2006.
virginiana). The tree grows 20’ to 70’ and 1’ to 2’ in diameter.
Persimmon tolerates a wide range of conditions, including moist alluvial soils
and clearings or roadsides. It is often shrubby and is common in pastures and
old fields. The Texas/Mexican variant is smaller and black; the cultivated
Chinese variant produces large orange fruit. There are separate male and female
trees which flower in spring. The orange fruit is not considered edible by
humans until after heavy frost, when the astringent tannin is reduced and the
fruit becomes soft. This small tree produces a fall fruit, bitter until after
the frost. It was a major prehistoric food resource for humans and the animals
they hunted. Historic tribes use the fruit in puddings, drinks, and as a bread
with a long storage life as well as drying the fruit for winter/spring use. The
dried fruit was made into flour by some Indians. It is also an important food
source for other mammals especially deer, coon, bear, possum, skunk, fox and
coyote, as well as many birds such as kinglet, catbird, cedar waxwing. Coyotes
and deer spread it by consuming the fruit. Bread made from the fruit can be
stored. Persimmon produces a good wood for smoking meat. The hard, large seeds
are commonly carbonized and well preserved even in Archaic and Woodland
contexts. Lorenz (1996:159) reports numerous persimmon seeds from a pit at
hamlet on a terrace near the Hoover Mound (22-Ho-502). The seeds have been used
as a coffee substitute and as buttons. Its commercial uses are limited to
furniture veneer and it was formerly highly prized for golf clubs and weaving
shuttles. “Persimmon” derives from an Algonkian language. In Choctaw, persimmon
is unkof. The French Colonial name for the tree
plaqueminier and its fruit plaquemine comes from the Illinois name
piakimin. (Byington 1909:517, Little 1995:635-636, Holmes 1990:67, Hunter
bell-shaped white flower. Sledge, Quitman Co., MS. 2007.
Pine (short leaf, short straw
or southern yellow pine, (Pinus echinata). This is a large (70’ to
100’ tall, 1 ½’ to 3’ diameter) tree with a broad, open crown. The cones open
at maturity to release winged seeds, but remain attached to branches. Short
straw pine tolerates a broad range of conditions. It is an early colonizer of
old fields. This is a major timber species and many fast-maturing cultivars
have been developed for commercial plantations. It is used as lumber, plywood
and pulpwood. Slash, yellow slash or swamp pine (P. elliottii)
has needles 7” to 10” long in contrast to the 3” to 4” needles or short straw
pine. Its cones drop at maturity. Slash pine is native to the lower Gulf
Coastal Plain, but is widely planted further north. Its name comes from its
habit of growing in low areas such as ponds and sloughs (slashes), flatwoods and
swampy floodplains, as well as uplands and old fields. It was once widely cut
for turpentine production, and is now a fast-growing lumber species. Longleaf
yellow pine/southern yellow pine (P. palustris) with 10” to 15” straw
favors sand hill environments (Little 1995:287-292). While pine is generally
considered an upland species, it can grow in floodplains in the lower southeast.
Short leaf/yellow Pine and Loblolly Pine. The pollen cones of both
species put out large amounts of yellow pollen in early spring. The seed cones
take two years to mature. Pines are often barked by beaver but are not a main
food source. Deer generally browse pine only when other food is limited.
Quail, turkey, dove, meadowlark, bluejay, blackbirds, woodpeckers, small
songbirds and rodents consume the seeds. Squirrels tear the cones apart
scale-by-scale to eat the seeds which mature in fall and winter. Besides many
lumber, pole, and millwork uses, pine was a favored tree for log houses. The
name loblolly refers to its preference for wet sites (Hunter 1989: 24).
applied the term pin to short straw, long straw and loblolly pines; a
pine woods is called a piniere. The Choctaw name for pine, tiak (Byington
1909:348) occurs in many place names such as Teoc in Carroll County. There are
numerous distinct forms: tiak fanya, longleaf; tiak hobak,
yellow pine (hobak, coward, gelding); tiak nia, pine tar/pitch (nia,
fat); tiak pinkshi/ponkshi, pine knot (ponkshi,
knot, gnarly, bulb, knob, gall, toadstool). tc "Pine (short leaf,
short straw or southern yellow pine, (Pinus echinata). This is a
large (70’ to 100’ tall, 1 ½’ to 3’ diameter) tree with a broad, open crown.
The cones open at maturity to release winged seeds, but remain attached to
branches. Short straw pine tolerates a broad range of conditions. It is an
early colonizer of old fields. At the time of the GLO surveys, it was common in
the Rankin County portion of the Pearl River floodplain. This is a major timber
species and many fast-maturing cultivars have been developed for commercial
plantations. It is used as lumber, plywood and pulpwood. Slash, yellow slash or
swamp pine (P. elliottii) has needles 7” to 10” long in contrast
to the 3” to 4” needles or short straw pine. Its cones drop at maturity. Slash
pine is native to the lower Gulf Coastal Plain, but is widely planted further
north. Its name comes from its habit of growing in low areas such as ponds and
sloughs (slashes), flatwoods and swampy floodplains, as well as uplands and old
fields. It was once widely cut for turpentine production, and is now a
fast-growing lumber species. Longleaf yellow pine/southern yellow pine with 10”
to 15” straw (P. palustris)
occurs south of the project area and favors sand hill environments. (Little
1995\: 287-292). While pine is generally considered an upland species, it can
grow in floodplains in the lower southeast. It is well attested east of the
Pearl in the GLO records. The French applied the term pin to short
straw, long straw and loblolly pines; a pine woods is called a piniere."
variifolium) or (S. albidum).
This small tree or shrub is marked by three different leaf shapes that turn
yellow orange or red in the fall and by green twigs. It prefers sandy or loamy
but moist upland soils but is found occasionally on stream/bank ridges. It is a
major old field species. All parts of the plant are aromatic. The bark has
been used for a yellow cloth dye. The leaves are powdered for file´ to
thicken okra stews and the roots are boiled for a tea; however, modern research
discourages its use as it appears to be a mild carcinogen. Byington (1909:228,
546) records the Choctaw kafi for sassafras and for coffee. Holmes
(1990:80-82) describes the process of manufacturing file´ (gombo file´,
sassafran) from sassafras leaves. The leaves should be collected in August
before they begin to change color and preferably after rain has washed the
natural dust off. They are dried in a dark location and crushed in a pile´
(stump mortar) with a pilon (pestle) and then sifted. The tonic tea
is reputed to be a non-specific “blood thinner”; safrole is reportedly a
carcinogen so the plant is no longer used for “root beer.” The leaf used for
file´ does not contain safrole. The tree ordinarily produces male and
female flowers on separate trees. The small (3/8") fruit are elliptical and
blue-black with a red cup and stalk. The fruit is eaten by over 20 song and game
bird species as well as bear. Birds usually harvest the entire seed crop within
a few days of ripening in July or August. This member of the Laurel family was
used by Native Americans as well as English, French, and Spanish colonials.
While it is not a technologically superior bow wood, sassafras has been used for
bows. Allely and Hamm (1999: 92) illustrate a historic Yuchi bow of sassafras
wood. It is a good wood for fence posts, but is difficult to transplant. It is
however easily grown from seed. Hard red sassafras wood is excellent for smoking
meat. (Little 1995:450-451, Holmes 1990: 80-82, Hunter 1989:78).
Sweetgum/Red gum (Liquidambar
styraciflua). This tree is particularly characteristic of wet soils; it
is a pioneer species forming thickets after logging in abandoned fields or
pastures. It is generally an environmental indicator of poorly drained soils,
and was frequently noted as an understory species in pine plantations. The tree
is very resistant to flooding. This is a large aromatic tree with a typically
straight trunk 60’ to 100’ tall and 1 ½’ to 3’ in diameter at maturity. Leaves,
twigs, and bark are resinous. The sweet, fragrant gum which can be obtained by
barking the tree was considered medicinal as well as being used as a rudimentary
chewing gum. The Spanish name copal was adopted by French colonials; it
derives from Aztec copalli which refers to its resin. “Copal balsam” has
been used to treat wounds and various diseases, in soap, and as an adhesive. The
bark is a favorite food of beavers, but it is of low value for deer browse.
Male and female flowers are borne on the same tree. The distinctive fruit is a
spiny ball each section of which contains one or two winged seeds, which remain
on the tree until the winter. The seeds provide food for over 20 species of game
and song birds as well as squirrels. Sweetgum wood has few economic uses. It
warps badly but is a dense and long-lasting firewood. Timber-sized specimens are
used for furniture, cabinetry, veneer, plywood, pulpwood and containers. The
lumber is sometimes disguised with the term “satin walnut.” It is important
Southern lawn ornamental because of quick growth, long life and vivid fall
colors. Hika is the Choctaw for sweetgum or the resin (hika nia (nia,
oil, fat) (Byington 1909:150, Little 1995: 453-454, Holmes 1990:73, Hunter
occidentalis). Soft wooded, fast-growing wetland tree. This is one of
the largest Eastern American trees with an often massive enlarged base and often
crooked massive limbs. It grows to 100’ tall and 2’ to 4’ diameter. The sycamore
is found in wet locations and is a dominant crown species in mixed forests. It
is a pioneer species; record examples of 11’ to 15’ diameter have been noted;
these are generally hollow and form homes for bats, birds, and wintering
insects. The massive hollow trunks of senescent trees also provide bear dens and
homes for chimney swifts. Hollow trunks have been used as corncribs and smoke
houses. The bark is distinctively smooth and mottled white and grey with large
peeling flakes exposing brown or green underbark. The tree bears male and
females flowers on the same tree; the fruit is a ball on a long stalk composed
of many narrow nuts with hairy dispersal tufts. It is a minor deer browse, but
the nutlets are eaten by finch, chickadee, and juncos. Sycamore is used in the
furniture industry, pulpwood, fiber board and similar uses. Its great density
makes it valuable for flooring and butcher block. Some Indian tribes made syrup
from sap. The common Louisiana name cotonnier is shared with cottonwood.
Byington (1909:121) records bihi holba (bihi, mulberry, holba,
like) and sini (buttonwood) as well as the Sixtowns variant name
fanikoyo, “squirrel does not climb it.” Small amounts of sycamore charcoal
were recovered from Mississippian contexts at the Old Hoover Mound (22-Ho-502)
in the Big Black Basin (Lorenz 1996: 158, Holmes1990:109-110, Hunter 1989:86).
Tulip poplar. Bark of mature bole, bright green leaves, many-seeded cones.
MCRA, Arkansas Ozarks. Fall 2006.
Tupelo gum, Water Tupelo,
Cotton gum (Nyssa aquatica). Tupelo is a tall (100’) aquatic tree
with a swollen base and large oval leaves. It often forms pure stands in swamps
or seasonal standing water. Male and female flowers are typically on separate
trees. The flowers are an important honey source in March and April. The fruit
or berry is dark greyish purple and elliptical, with sour pulp and a winged
stone. The fruit is eaten by a few bird species. The soft outer pulp is very
bitter. It matures in fall and early winter. The wood is spongy and of limited
commercial use, but it was once used for house blocks and, when hollow, for bee
hives and troughs. They become hollow with age. Tupelo has also been used for
canoes. Tupelo or Cotton gum is referred to in Colonial French as olivier
as its fruit resembles an olive. Hollowed Tupelo Gum logs were used to make
piles or mortars for grind corn, file´, and red pepper (Little
1995:618, Holmes 1990:62-63, Hunter 1989:146).
Walnut see Hickory.
Willow (Salix sps.),
especially black willow. The main southern willow is the black or swamp
willow (S. nigra), which is similar to the brushy sandbar/coyote/narrowleaf
willow (S. exigua) of the more northerly and westerly regions, but
larger, reaching heights of 60’+. It typically has multiple trunks. Black
willow has chains of seed capsules maturing in late spring; these are similar to
the related cottonwood pods, but contain hairless seeds. Ward’s /Coastal
Plain Willow (S. caroliniana) is small and shrubby like sand bar
willow. It has been observed to naturally hybridize with Black Willow. Coastal
plain willow is typically less than 1’ in diameter. Because of industrial uses
such as basketry, there are many introduced Eurasian species that can be
Willow is particularly adapted
to wet locations on floodplains and the banks of streams and ponds. Soft,
fast-growing, often brushy, willow prefers sandbars and waterside habitat. It is
often found in pine stands or as an understory with cottonwood. Willow bark is a
favorite food of beavers which often cut down large stands and stack branches
for later stripping. Muskrats, rabbits and squirrels eat new buds, and deer
often browse will stands. Flexible rods from new growth are used for structures
and containers. The willow has commonly been used to make wicker furniture and
in other applications where strength is not of concern. Larger specimens are
harvested for furniture, doors, cabinetwork, containers and pulpwood. It is
valuable for stabilizing banks; willow mats and stakes were widely used to
stabilize cut banks and man-made levees. It was also formerly the main source
of charcoal for gunpowder, and its spring flowers are a main source of honey.
Byington (1909:606) reports takoinsha or tikoinsha
as the Choctaw word for willow. The standard French gaule is used for all
willows; the bitter bark of savlenoir (Salix nigra) was used for
fevers (Little 1995: 327-338, Holmes 1990:122, Hunter 1989:36-38). Small
amounts of willow charcoal were recovered from all Mississippian site types
tested by the Old Hoover Mound project except the upland farmstead (Lorenz 1996:
Understory shrubs and bushes
Beauty bush, French
mulberry (Callicarpa americana)
is a shrub up to 5’ tall. Beautybush is adaptable to many environments but is a
common understory plant in oak-hickory-sweet gum woods. The plant produces
clusters of purple berries that are eaten by a dozen songbird species, quail,
coon, possum and fox. Deer browse the vegetation in summer and fall and also
eat the late summer and fall berries. Gulf Colonial French termed this small,
many stemmed bush chassa pareille from the French salsepaveille
for greenbriar; it is also known as cherche pareille (Holmes 1990: 130,
Hunter 1989: 160).
bush/Brook euonymus (Euonymus americanus) is one of several members
of the Bittersweet (Celastraceae) family. The local variety may be G.
americanus rather than E. atropurpuveus. The fruit is eaten by many
birds and is a favored deer browse; deer appear to be a major factor in thinning
burning bush thickets. The fruit appears in the fall. Eastern Wahoo or
Euonymus (Euonymus atropurpuveus) is a shrub or small tree with
highly distinctive red/purple 4-lobed, warty, leathery seed capsules. It is
noted on higher/better drained locations. The early summer flower and seed
coats are also dark red. Burning bush prefers moist soil and can form thickets
in valleys and along forest edges. The powdered bark was used as a Native
American and early Euro/Afro American purge (Little 1995:566-567, Hunter
Dogwood (Eastern flowering
dogwood, Cornus florida). This small tree or shrub can reach 30’ high
and 8” diameter but is typically a small, sprawling, irregular crowned bush.
This large bush or small tree has a weak and spindly form. Dogwood is more
typical of uplands, but can be found in moist valley soils, and it is widely
planted as an ornamental and spread by birds consuming the fruit. The dogwood
is marked by its reddish bark which forms square plates. The white or pink
petal-like bracts surrounding tiny yellow flowers appear before most forest
vegetation. The seeds attract birds. The drupes are eaten by many birds as
well as deer, bear and small mammals, and the low vegetation is a favored deer
browse. The fruit matures in the fall. The elliptical, shiny, red fruit have a
thin bitter pulp surrounding a hard stone and are a major wildlife food source.
The wood is tough and formerly harvested for weaving shuttles, spools, pulley
blocks, and mallets. The roots were used by Indians to dye quills, feathers and
cane splints. Indians used the aromatic root and bark against malaria. A red
dye can be made from dogwood roots. Besides use for malaria and other fevers
and chills, the plant has been used as an astringent for hoarseness and as a
general tonic. It was a common or favored wood for North American arrows. The
common name is said to derive from the English practice of making daggers from
the genus. The Colonial French bois bouton refers to the button-like
winter buds. Dogwood also has the colonial Louisiana name bois de fleche
as it was used for arrow shafts. Allely and Hamm (1999:100) illustrate Caddo
dogwood arrow shafts. Byington (1909:433) records hakchupilhko as the
Choctaw word for this bush. (Little 1995:615-616, Holmes 1990:61-63, Hunter
Hawthorns are of the highly diverse Rose family which includes service
berries/shad bush, apples, plums, cherries and mountain ashes. Hawthorns are
highly diverse in form, with 30 known eastern U.S. species. Hunter (1989: 88)
writes “The genus Crataegus is a difficult one, even for professional
botanists. Some authorities have recommended that similar forms be regrouped to
reduce the large number of species – over 1,000 proposed for the eastern United
States according to some interpretations.” Holmes (1990:115-116) also notes that
“the genus Crataegus is large and one of the most confusing in North
America. Potential south/central Mississippi lowland species are May/Apple/Shining
Hawthorn (C. gestivalis), Barberry/Bigthorn Hawthorn (C.
berberifolia); Cockspur Hawthorn/Hogapple (C. crus-galli);
Biltmore/ Thicket/Allegheny Hawthorn (C. intricata), Parsley
Hawthorn (C. marshallii), Downy Hawthorn (C. opaca), a
preferred culinary species, Washington Hawthorn (C. phaenopyrum),
Little Hip/Small Fruit/Pasture Hawthorn (C. spathulata) and Green
or Southern Hawthorn (C. vividis) (Little 1995-458-489).
Hawthorns are small
trees or bushes, generally thorny, with small white spring flowers and small,
edible, but often dry, fruit ripening in early summer through fall. Various
species are distinguished by leaf, twig/bud, fruit/seed forms. Some are planted
as ornamentals, and they are widely spread by birds consuming the fruit.
Crataegus are an important food source for wildlife, for birds as well as
bear, coon, deer and small mammals. The thorny vegetation and twigs are avoided
by deer, but beaver eat the bark of some species. Various haw fruits mature
practically throughout the year, May-February. The Colonial French name
cenellier comes from the standard French for a similar plant, cenelle
or senelle. The Choctaw for haw or black haw is chanafila/shanafila
(Byington 1909:468, Hunter 1989:88-94).
Holly (Ilex opaca).
Holly is a densely covered evergreen tree with pale, smooth mottled bark. It is
indicative of moist or wet but well-drained soil in uplands, and of
better drained floodplain locations. It
is primarily an understory species. This is more commonly an upland species.
Native holly is shade tolerant and though it can form large trees, it is often
an understory species. Vegetation is variable, and various hollies hybridize in
the wild. Holly has dioecious flowers. The spring flowers are small and white.
The small red or orange bitter berry appears in late fall/winter and is eaten by
many birds, as well as some mammals. The 3/8” berries are eaten by birds which
scatter the seeds, as well as coon and possum. It is also browsed by deer. The
fine grained wood has been used for inlay and parquetry, cabinetwork, handles,
carving and similar small work; it accepts many stains. Many culivars have been
developed from the active wild holly. Yaupon (I. vomitoria),used in the
Southeastern “black drink” purgative is found only in the deep South uplands.
The Choctaw for holly tree is iti hishi halupa (hishi, hair,
blade, leaf; halupa, sharp, pointed. (Byington 1909:472, Little 1995:564,
Hunter 1989: 122).
triloba). This shrub forms
dense thickets as it spreads from root sprouts. Pawpaw is a major understory
plant in hardwoods and is a typical southern floodplain species. The name comes
from the Arawakan name for the unrelated papaya tree; many related species of
Annonaceae (custard apples) are important native foods in South and Central
America. The French afiminier and the genus name Asimina derive
from an Indian work arsimin or assimin. It is remarkable for its
large (7-10” long, 3-5” wide) leaves with an unpleasant odor. The distinctive
flower has 3 brown-purple petals in early spring; the small (3-5”) fruit is
banana-like. The fruit is ripe July – September. Its soft pulp is edible and
contains shiny brown oblong seeds that are spread by coyotes and other animals
eating the fruit. Many small animals and birds eat pawpaw fruit. It is also
browsed by deer and barked by beaver. Possum, coon, squirrel and birds readily
eat the fruit; it was noted as a native wild food by the DeSoto Expedition. The
Choctaw word for pawpaw or custard apple is umbi. The banana-like fruit
are ripe when soft and yellow. They can be eaten raw or cooked as desserts.
The beans can cause vomiting and are reported to have a depressing effect on
animals. The inner bark is very tough and was woven into cloth by various
tribes; early settlers also stripped the bark for rope. The bark is also
considered medicinal (Byington 1909:359, 515, Little 1995:446-447, Hunter
1989:74, Holmes 1990:35).
spp.). Extract used for black
dye (Jakes and Ericksen 2001). Asian lacquer uses a related plant, and it is
likely that it was used in prehistoric times in the Mid-South. Byington
(1909:574) reports the Choctaw bashukcha or bati for sumac. Sumac
can also be used for smoking and the berries can be chewed to relieve thirst or
Snowbell or Storax/Styrax
(Styracaea). These small
trees have a distinct white flower. The most likely area species are snowdrop (Halesia
diptera) or bigleaf or snowbell storax (Styrax grandifolius). They
are both indicative of swamp/stream margin environments, with Styrax
being somewahat more of an upland species.
Herbs and Forbs
or pigweed (Amaranthaceae and Chenopodiaceae).
Large stands of pigweed were noted in overflow areas. Pigweeds were a major
prehistoric starch and oil source, and both wild and domestic forms were used.
It is also a major food source for birds. Pale seed amaranth (Amaranthus
hypochondriacus) is now considered a weed, it was the form once
cultivated in some areas of North America as a food crop, and it is a valuable
wildlife food. Amaranth stands were observed on sandbars and in other areas of
seasonal high water. Sumpweed (Chenopodium berlandieri) was also
collected and in some cases cultivated in prehistoric times.
Berry briar (Rubus
spp.). Briars were encountered
in some old clearings/clearcuts. These are an important seasonal food source for
birds, some animals, and were undoubtely used when ripe by prehistoric
creeper (Campsis radicans).
This dense vine has large orange flowers and produces a large bean. It is
characterized as “undesirably aggressive” (Thieret et al. 2001). It is related
to another common member of the Bigoniaceae, the catalpa and is sometimes
planted by foolish people as an ornamental.
strumarium). This coarse woody weed is a major cropland pest. The small
burred seeds are abundant and will germinate over several years. They can spread
by contact due to the bristles or spikes covering the seed pod. Stands of
cocklebur were noted in seasonal sloughs. The cocklebur is a 2-3’ tall weed
with a taproot. The vegetation is coarse and the plant derives its name from
the spiny seed capsule. It is a major colonizer of old fields, disturbed ground
and wastelands. It was observed in dense stands on overflowed land. The
Acadian term herbe a¢ coquin or
“rouge plant” alludes to its undesirability. Cockleburs have been noted as
impressions in prehistoric daub (Holmes 1990: 47). Byington (1909:413) records
panshtathli for this weed.
Coral bean (Erythrina
Ferns. The new heads of
the common fern are edible by humans. A climbing fern, perhaps introduced, was
spp.). This late summer blooming weed is an important food source for birds’
Grapevine or muscadine (Vitis
sps.). This large, climbing woodland vine produces a late summer fruit
commonly used by prehistoric and historic inhabitants of the mid-South. Vines
are sometimes noted as being used for tieing timbers in prehistoric structures.
Grapevines include muscadine/scuppernong (Rotala rotundifolia) which
prefer moist but well drained locations. Cat or Red grape (V. palmata)
which grows in wet sandy areas, grayback/winter/downy grape (V.
cinerea) a small sweet grape of moist areas and summer or possum grape
(V. aestivalis). Leaf shape is highly variable within the 5 species and
similar between species. All are important food sources for birds and small
mammals. It is also a preferred deer browse. Deer and bear also eat fallen
grapes (Hunter 1989:136-138). Colonial French refers to the muscadine vine as
liane de soco, apparently from a Choctaw word soco for the grape.
(Byington (1909:504) has the variant suko). Besides being an important
wildlife food source muscadine is widely gathered, and sometimes cultivated for
wine and jelly (Holmes 1990: 137). Lorenz (1996: 185) reports grape seeds from
a tested hamlet site on a terrace near the Mississippi Period Old Hoover Mound
Greenbriar, Bullbriar or
Deerbriar (Smilax bona-nox.). Several varieties of this member of the
lily family have been defined. The leathery leaves can be triangular or lobed,
wide or narrow. The underground tubers are knotty and spiny. The black fruit
is eaten by cat bird, mockingbird and other birds in the fall and winter (Hunter
1989:28). Catbriar/green briar (S. glauca) has a bright green
triangular leaf and weaker thorns. The knotty tubers often occur in stream-like
tubers and contrast to the spiny masses of S. bona-nox. The dark
blue/black fruit are eaten by quail, turkey, cedar wax wing, cardinal and other
birds. Common greenbriar (S. rotundifolia) is marked by large,
round clusters of black berries eaten by turkey, quail, songbirds, fur bearers
and bear. This is one of the commonest forms of greenbriar, particularly in
disturbed places such as thickets, fence rows, old fields and roadsides. The
roots are thick and the leaves broad and rounded (Hunter 1989: 30). This tough
thorny green vine is a major understory species. It is extensively browsed by
deer, and the new shoots are a minor food source in the spring. Colonial
French termed all Smilax species Cantague. The large knotty
rhizomes were used as food by Indians and early settlers by powdering and mixing
with meal or flower. The French term comes from a Choctaw name (Holmes 1990:
23-24). Byington (1909:400) reports kantak for brier and kantak paska
for brier-root bread.
Green dragon (Arisaema
dracontium) and other arums. These plants were widely observed as a
ground cover. Other forms were more common that the easily identidied green
dragon. The rootstocks are considered poisonous raw but can be treated to
proiduce an edible flour in some species (Thieret et al. 2001).
Indian pink (Spigelia
Mallow/wild cotton (Malvaceae)
May apple/mandrake (Podophyllum
peltatum). Early summer insipid
fruit is the main cultural use of this small ground cover. Johnson et al.
(1983) report maypop seeds from Gordon Mound (22-Je-501). Lorenz (1996: 159)
reports a may pop seed from pre-mound contexts at the Old Hoover Mound in the
Big Black basin in nearby Holmes County. Choctaw for may apple or mandrake is
fala imisito (Byington 1909:498). The root was used as a cathartic by some
native peoples (Thieret et al. 2001).
Partridge berry (Mitchella
Peavine or Wild Bean.
This was one of the main ground cover and weak vine species observed in the
project area, where it was observed to grow prolifically and produce large
seedpods as well as tubers.
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron
radicans) Poison ivy, a
dioecious plant, was found throughout the project area, as a dense ground cover
or sometimes as a small tree. The small, waxy, white berries or drupes ripen in
the fall. Quail, turkey, woodpecker, cedar waxwing, chickadee, catbird,
flicker, ruby-crowned kinglet, sapsucker, downy woodpecker and many other birds
eat the berries. The vegetation considered toxic to most humans is eaten by deer
in spring and summer. The Louisiana French term is herbe
!a la puce,
probably because its leaves turn dark red in fall. The term is also applied to
Trumpet creeper/bullvine/cow itch (Holmes 1990: 33-34).
Poke is a weed that grows up to 10’ tall. The
large root stock is poisonous. It is common to wastes and disturbed places.
The Colonial French name chow gras (fat cabbage) indicates that the young
leaves have been eaten as a pot herb. Dyes are made from the dark purple
berries. They are not poisonous, but the seeds may be. The berries have been
seeped in whiskey as a supposed rheumatism tonic, and the root is also
considered as a medicinal treatment for livestock (Holmes 1990: 108-109). Leaves
of this coarse weed can be eaten in spring. Seeds are eaten by birds and have
been used as purple stain, dye or ink. Byington (1909:522) reports the Choctaw
word koshiba for pokeweed.
spp). This widespread and common
grass is the most common material identified as thatch of Mississippian houses.
Cattail (Typha latifolia).
Cattail is a very useful plant. The roots of cattail are an important
prehistoric food source as tubers and flour, and the long and supple leaves are
of major industrial importance for matting. The spikes can be eaten and the
pollen can also be gathered as a food. The dense stands spread by the creep of
the roots. It is the favored habitat of the red-wing blackbird and muskrat (Thieret
et al. 2001:809-810).
palmetto (Sabal minor). This
fanned-leaf shrub grows from an underground rootstock. The flower/seed stalk
can reach 5’ high, with black ½” berries that mature August through October. It
is a major indicator of low, wet flats (Hunter 1989: 28). A coarse fiberous
shrub of swamplands of the Lower Mississippi Valley, it was used as thatch and
cordage. Central Mississippi is the local northerly limit of this tough, low
plant. The French colonial name latanier comes from an Indian name.
Besides thatch and formerly, fans, the plant has no known uses (Holmes 1990:
25). Byington (1909:339) gives tala as the Choctaw name.
Switch cane (A. tecta)/giant
cane (Arundinaria gigantea) and River cane. Switch cane is the only
woody native grass. This is the popular cane for fishing poles. Only a small
percentage of the mature plants bloom each year. Flowering is very irregular,
but generally occurs in the spring. The young shoots are eaten by beaver and
swamp rabbits (Hunter 1989: 28).tc "Switch cane (A. tecta)/giant cane
Switch cane is the only woody native grass. This is the popular cane for
fishing poles. Only a small percentage of the mature plants bloom each year.
Flowering is very irregular, but generally occurs in the spring. The young
shoots are eaten by beaver and swamp rabbits. (Hunter 1989\: 28). " \l 3
Lorenz (1996: 159) reports Arundinaria gigantea from various contexts at
Hoover Mound and associated hamlets,apparently as an architectural material.
Cane is generally an indicator of the better drained ridges in floodplains. It
was a plant of major economic importance in prehistoric times, being used for
basketry and structures as well as tools and weapons. Whole or woven split cane
is commonly recovered in houses as wattle and as beds, benches and boxes. Cane
impressions are commonly found impressed on baked daub wall plaster in
Mississippian contexts throughout the Mid-South. In the early historic time,
cane brakes provided a major source of winter pasture for cattle. A not
commonly known use of cane is as bows and even bow strings, but Allely and Hamm
(1999:96-99) illustrate the bow Pushmataha carried in 1812: it has a cane string
wrapped on the bow. Cane was used by the Chickasaw for quivers and other
containers (Allely and Hamm 1999: 94-95). In Choctaw, cane is oski or
uski. The paucity of stone in the Gulf Coastal Plain led the prehistoric
ancestors of the Choctaw, like the peoples of Southeast Asia, to be highly
reliant on cane for many uses.
Parasites and Epiphytes
Dodder (Cusuta gronovii).
This unusual appearing orange, leafless, parasitic vine forms dense clumps that
bear down its host. It is a member of the Convolvulaceae, or morning
glories. Some that parasitize clover are introduced from Europe (Thieret et al.
Escatawapa Jackson Co. MS Kent Smith
Hanging moss or Spanish moss
(Tillandsia usneoides) is an epiphite colonizing several
species of floodplain trees. The French called mousse/moss “barbe
espagnule”, “Spanish beard”, while the Spanish called it “perruque a la
Francais” or “French wig.” Collection of moss for mattress and upholstery
stuffing was once an important industry across the Gulf Coastal Plain. It was
also used as a fiber to strengthen mud in French tradition wattle-and-daub (bousillage).
This plant is said to be threatened by a fungal disease. Jackson is at its
current northern limit of reliable survivability, as it is not resistant to ice
or heavy frost. Moss is a folk remedy for diabetes (Holmes 1990:8-9). The
Choctaw for tree moss is iti shumo (iti, tree or wood, shumo,
thistle down, as used for blowgun dart fluff, Byington 1909:335).
setotinum). Mistletoe is an
evergreen parasite that colonizes certain hardwoods from which it obtains water
and minerals. It has male and female flowers on separate plants. The round,
sticky, white berries are eaten by birds and some animals; this is apparently
its mode of dispersal. The fruit ripens October-January (Hunter 1989:68). The
standard French qui is used in Colonial America, but mistletoe is more
commonly called couronne de chene or “crown of the oak” as it affects
water oak in particular and can eventually kill trees. The method of dispersal
may also be the fruit sticking to birds (Holmes 1990:89-90). The Choctaw fani
shapha means “squirrel flag.”
1909 A Dictionary of the
Choctaw Language. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 46. Smithsonian
Holmes, Walter C.
1990 Flore Louisiane:An
Ethno-Botanical Study of French Speaking Louisiana. The Center for
Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette.
Hunter, Carl G.
1989 Trees, Shrubs, and Vines
of Arkansas. The Ozark Society Foundation, Little Rock.
Little, Elbert L.
1995 National Audubon Society
Field Guide to North American Trees. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Native Fauna (animals)
"Locust" or cicada. Some Middle Archaic sawn
and polished jasper beads appear to portray this insect. In the mid and late
summer, huge numbers of them perched in the trees make a loud shrill buzz, like
"a hurricane with a techno rhythm". Kent Smith/Tech-it-Out.
Locusts and other insects are major, deep-acting soil forming
organisms. Larval stages live under ground of many years (species vary in
periodicity and favored host). Upon emerging, they climb whatever they come to,
attach themselves, and shed their skins to become winged adult forms. Abandoned
shells are shown here on a white oak. Kent Smith/Tech-it-Out..
Locust: The devastating
rise and mysterious disappearance of the insect that shaped the American
frontier. Jeffrey A. Lockwood. 2004, Basic Books, New York, New York,
294 pps., acknowledgments, introduction, index, bibliography contained in
chapter notes, 14 small chapter head illustrations.
Reptiles and Amphibians
See the excellent “Snakes of the Southeast” by Whit
Gibbons and Mike Dorcas, 2005, University of Georgia Press.
Brown snake (Storeria dekayi). Small
Midwestern worn snake (Carphophis amoenus helenae).
Mississippi ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus
Northern scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea). Medium
Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Medium
Western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus). Medium
Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos).
Prairie kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster).
Red milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulaum). Medium
Speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki).
Large terrestrial. Our main snake-eater.
Rat snake (Elaphe obsolete). Large terrestrial snake
with yellow (Atlantic), black (Appalachian), grey (south central) and red
mottled (Texas and Louisiana) races; the Delta ones should be black x grey.
Rat snake. Anchor, south Lafayette Co.
MS. Tech-IT-Out. July 2007.
Blackmask racer (Coluber constrictor latrunculus).
Gulf crawfish snake (Regina rigida sinicola) and
Delta crayfish snake (R. r. deltae) of the lower delta. Watersnake
Graham’s crawfish snake (Regina grahamii).
Northern x midland watersnake (Nerodia sipedon).
Southern or broadbanded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata
Plain-bellied (yellow-bellied) watersnake (Nerodia
erythrogaster flavigaster). Watersnake
Diamondback watersnake (Nerodia rhombifer).
Western green watersnake (Nerodia cyclopion).
Western mud snake (Farancia abacura). Watersnake
Rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma).
Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). Poisonous
Copperhead. Quitman County MS, killed by Scooter
(Scooter’s foot for scale).
Western cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma).
Timber or canebrake rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).
Deer (Odocoilius virginianus) our main game species. Mighty
Four sets of antlers. Only bucks (males) have
"horns." Antlers are shed in late winter.
Beaver. Breached beaver dam in Davidson fork of Toby Tubby Creek basin,
north Lafayette Co. MS. Tech-IT-Out. February 2007.
Mole. Anchor, southern Lafayette Co., MS. Mole. Tech-IT-Our. September
INTRODUCED, INVASIVE and
I had thought I should put a few North American species
that have shifted their ranges in my lifetime, like the huge numbers of
armadillos and coyotes in Mississippi now. Some southern plants like palmetto
and hanging moss, now with a northern limit around I-20, should start moving
north. Bodoc might also be considered an introduced species in the Delta—1
Cincquefoil (Wild Orange)
cinquefoil (wild orange)
Clovers and lespedeza
Fruit Trees: Apple, peach, and pear--There are however
native “Chickasaw” plums and wild “pin” cherries.
Arkansas black apple
Ginko—seldom seems to escape cultivation
Grasses for pastures—Bermuda, rye, fescue
Honeysuckles (Japanese and Amur)
Kudzu leaf and flower.
Kudzu. Competing with pines. Tallahatchie River hills, north Lafayette Co. MS.
Kudzu still growing strong in September in 2006.Tech-IT-Out.
Kudzu, like wisteria, was first brought from
Japan as an ornamental in the late 1800s.
It was widely planted for erosion
control in the 1930s. It is now a pest that destroys timber.
Crenshaw, Panola Co., Mississippi.
Mimosa (Albezia sp.)—Iran and Central Asia, but by
way of China
Mulberry (white or silkworm)—introduced by the French in a
failed attempt at a colonial silk industry
Nandina—“sacred bamboo”, we see it wild in the woods near
Privet—horrible dense thickets, abundant seeds spread by
Tallow tree—“pride of China tree”, tremendously common as a
Wisteria—another Asian ornamental gone bad wrong
Wisteria. Only blooms for a week or two. University Avenue, Oxford,
Lafayette Co. MS.
Tech-IT-Out. March 2007.
Water hyacinth—clogs ponds and waterways
English house sparrow
Pigeon—Eurasian rock dove
Ring-necked dove—a newly invasive Eurasian bird, highly
similar in appearance to the dove, but a little larger
Cattle egret—from Africa to Brazil and then north
throughout the Gulf South
Nutria—South American rodent replacing the native muskrat
Red fox—from England, distinctive in habit and biology from
the native grey fox
Red fox, Escatawpa, Jackson Co. MS, juvenile eating mulberries,
2006. Kent Smith.