North Coast Chapter Of The
California Native Plant Society

Hungry for Brodiaea?

By Carol Ralph

In a year or two, fourth graders at Pacific Union School hope to be able to harvest and eat. These reportedly tasty bulbs were a mainstay of the native American diet in California.

Inspired by an article in Fremontia about native American harvests of brodiaea and similar bulb-like plants (Anderson, M. Kat, & D. L. Rowney. 1998. California geophytes: Ecology, ethnobotany, and conservation. Fremontia 27(1): 10-17), I asked a fourth grade teacher if I could appropriate her class' garden bed in the school garden and some of her students' time to create a brodiaea patch for annual harvest. I chose fourth graders because they study California Indians, and this teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Pierce, has interest and expertise in plants and gardening. She is supporting this project.

My experience in the Native Plant Arboretum, at this school, has proven that gophers, snails and slugs depredate these tasty bulbs and their shoots. Accordingly, we made a gopher-proof fortress in the garden bed, a raised, rectangular bed roughly 2 x 11 feet. We dug out all the dirt, lined the bottom and sides with rocks from a river bed, and replaced the dirt. These rocks were 1 - 5 inches diameter, hopefully large enough that gophers will turn aside when they encounter them. This design worked successfully on a smaller scale, and with rocks 3-5 inches diameter, in the Native Plant Arboretum. After planting, we protected the patch against snails by tacking copper flashing (available at nurseries) to the perimeter boards.

In mid-October we planted, very roughly 3 inches deep, hundreds of corms and cormlets of Ithuriel's spear (Tritelia laxa), harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans), and blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum). These were recovered from the small patches of these species planted in the Native Plant Arboretum last spring. The production of these cormlets, which bud off the larger corms, and the ready germination of the seeds are the features that make these species productive and able to withstand yearly harvesting. In fact, Ms Anderson found (see above reference) that except under the most intense harvesting regime, plots subjected to harvest produced just as much as unharvested plots. If we have good growth, this year's students will be able to taste a brodiaea bulb next spring, and next fall's students can try using a digging stick to cultivate the patch and harvest a few.

Meanwhile we are going to plant miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii), and baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii) so we have more to look at and something to eat before the bulbs come up and bloom.

California Native Plant Society - North Coast Chapter
P.O. Box 1067 Arcata, CA 95518-1067
Last updated April 1999