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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

Wild Onions on the Roof

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The Great Plains Native Plant Society hosts the Claude Barr Memorial Great Plains Garden on part of my ranch. The visitor center, currently under construction, is a reconstructed log cabin moved from its original site some miles east of here. The roof is "gumbo"-- a thick clay natural to this area, that sets up almost like concrete.

In her early-June, 2010, report to members, Cindy Reed, president of the GPNPS wrote: "I could see that some struggling weeds had sprouted on our roof, so I went up the ladder and began pulling them. There are many wild onions . . . delivered in the gumbo last fall. I left the onions, but removed the beggar ticks and such, in the fear that in the usual manner of such annuals, they would respond to their dry lives on the roof by producing as many seeds as they could even if they themselves are only the smallest of plants. Depauperate is the word. The onions don't appear depauperate, or at least not yet-- they don't have much for a root system, so it will be interesting to see if they survive."

I particularly like the fact that the wild onions are sprouting on the roof. I used to earn the ire of the buckskinning mothers at Rendezvous because when their kids followed me around camp, I'd teach them how to tell death camas from wild onions by eating some-- and send them home stinking.

The teaching evolved by accident. When I took the solitary walks I enjoyed, carrying my journal and camera, I would often be followed by children who wanted to know WHY I was looking at the plants, WHY I was writing, WHY that plant looked like that, WHY the bear had scratched that tree. And they'd been warned by their parents not to eat death camas, but they weren't sure why, or what it looked like. So I showed them that death camas and wild onions do look a lot alike. Just looking might not be enough to distinguish them, but a wild onion crushed in your fingers smells and tastes like super-powered onions. Death camas just smells like a crushed green plant.

Once they knew, they'd delightedly pick wild onions to take home to their mothers for stew, and eat a few on the way. Some of the mothers were horrified; even brushing their teeth didn't get rid of the smell-- it oozed out their pores for days. And of course the kids were thrilled to know something the old mountain men knew.

In commemoration of that lesson, one of those kids later planted a wild onion from the Big Horn Mountains on George's grave.

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For more information:

The Rendezvous Page on this website

The Great Plains Garden Page on this website

Great Plains Native Plant Society website

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