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Biological Environment

Native flora (plants)


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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 repellent. 

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’ arcBois 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.

Catalpa (Catalpa 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: 38-39).


Cedar. Blue, 2-3 mm berries high in Vitamin C. MCRA, Arkansas Ozarks. Fall 2006.

Cypress (Taxodium 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 boscoyos or 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

Cottonwood (Populus 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 1909:354).

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.

Hickories, 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.

“Hickory” is 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). 

The French 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, 482).

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.

Oak: The 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 1995:  382-405).

Oaks: Pin or willow oak. Yokona River bottom, Taylor, Lafayette Co., MS. 2007.

The French 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.

Persimmon (Diospyros 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 1989:152).

Persimon. Small, 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). 

The French 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."

Red Bud.

Seed Pods

Sassafras (Sassafras 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 1989:86) 

 Sycamore (Platanus 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.

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 considered naturalized.

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: 158).

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).

 Burning bush/Strawberry 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 1989:124).

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 1989:144)

Dogwood Leaves

Hawthorns (Crataegus). 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).

Pawpaw (Asimina 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).

Sumac (Rhus 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 make “lemonade”.


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

 Amaranths/Chenopods 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 occupants.

Bullvine/cowitch/trumpet 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.

Cocklebur (Xanthium 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 herbacea)

Ferns. The new heads of the common fern are edible by humans. A climbing fern, perhaps introduced, was also observed.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.). This late summer blooming weed is an important food source for birds’ fall migration.

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 (22-Ho-502).

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 marilandica)

Knotweed (Polygonum erectum)

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).

Maypop/Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Nightshade (Physalis heterophylla)

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)

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.


Prickly ash/devils’ walkingstick

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).

Pokeweed. (Phytolacca americana) 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.

Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.)

Red vine

Supplejack (Berchemia scandens)



Bluestem (Andropdon 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, dwarf 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.

Red rice

River oats

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 (Arundinaria gigantea)  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. 2001:484).


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/mossbarbe 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).

Mistletoe (Phoradendron 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.”


Byington, Cyrus

1909 A Dictionary of the Choctaw Language.  Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 46.  Smithsonian Institute, Washington.

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). Small

Mississippi ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus stictogens). Small

Northern scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea). Medium terrestrial

Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Medium terrestrial

Western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus). Medium terrestrial

Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos). Medium terrestrial

Prairie kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster). Medium terrestrial

Red milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulaum). Medium terrestrial

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). Large terrestrial

Gulf crawfish snake (Regina rigida sinicola) and Delta crayfish snake (R. r. deltae) of the lower delta. Watersnake

Graham’s crawfish snake (Regina grahamii). Watersnake

Northern x midland watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). Watersnake

Southern or broadbanded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata confluens). Watersnake

Plain-bellied (yellow-bellied) watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster). Watersnake

Diamondback watersnake (Nerodia rhombifer). Watersnake

Western green watersnake (Nerodia cyclopion). Watersnake

Western mud snake (Farancia abacura). Watersnake

Rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma). Watersnake

Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). Poisonous


Copperhead. Quitman County MS, killed by Scooter (Scooter’s foot for scale).

Western cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma). Poisonous

Timber or canebrake rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). Poisonous


Deer (Odocoilius virginianus) our main game species. Mighty tasty.


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 2006.


 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 January 2007.


 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.

Bluff hills, 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 urban areas




paulonia bole


Privet—horrible dense thickets, abundant seeds spread by birds


Tallow tree—“pride of China tree”, tremendously common as a weed

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


 Zebra mussel

Honey bee

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

House mouse

Norway rat

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.


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