Cultivated Plants

Image of several plants cultivated by native people.
Hunter-gatherers domesticate wild plants

Given how crucial they were in the development of North American agriculture, it's ironic that today these plants are considered to be unexceptional. Two of the specimens were collected along roadsides, and one was collected along a railroad right of way. Another is referred to, without ceremony, as a weed. But these plants sowed the seeds of what would be the domestication of plants, a change that laid the foundation for agricultural societies to develop. Hunting and gathering would no longer be the only ways to get food. Native people could now control where these plants grew and select the best yielding plants for replanting.

Marsh Elder, Little Barley, Knotweed, and Lamb’s Quarters were among the first plants to be cultivated as far back as 4,000-5,000 years ago. Domestication of wild plants, even weedy ones, was a tremendous breakthrough. Coupled with the development of ways to store surplus food, surviving long, harsh winters became easier, and it enabled human populations to begin to grow faster.

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