Some Native Americans found squash seeds in a pot about 800
years old and revived the plant for the first time in centuries.
The seeds from the large, bright orange squash have been distributed
to native communities and to others, including some college students
in Canada who grew a big, orange squash this fall.
squash in this photo had not been grown for hundreds of years.
Native Americans revived it after finding seeds in a pot 800
years old. (Mother News Network photo)
There is a worldwide movement to keep the planet's rich heritage
of food crops safe from genetic modification, catastrophe and loss
of diversity that may result from food producers' growing just a
few high-yield or tough varieties of fruits, vegetables and crops.
Winona LaDuke, a native leader who ran for vice president with
Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket in 2000, named the squash
Gete Okosomin or "big old squash," says a
blog posting from the American Indian Center of Chicago.
The revival of the giant squash comes at a time when scientists
are trying to conserve the world's precious and greatly diverse
varieties and species of plant foods. In 2004, scientists from around
the world opened a seed bank on a Norwegian island north of the
Arctic Circle, where cold, dry conditions are right for preservation.
Already there are hundreds of thousands of types of plant-food seeds
in the vault.
|"Many people don't know this, but many of our traditional
foods have been rendered extinct, largely due to modern agriculture's
industrial approach favoring a few cash crops over an entire
variety of native fruits and vegetables," the American Indian
Center blog states. "Critics also suggest that genetically modified
organisms are also killing native seeds. That's why Gete Okosomin
is something to celebrate. Every time someone successfully grows
Gete Okosomin and saves the seeds, it's a victory for our people."
Students at the Canadian Mennonite University made news in October
2015 by growing the mammoth squash seeds, but the Native Americans
with the American Indian Center's Growing Circle gardening club
and others had grown them before. The Growing Circle received the
gift from Sue Menzel of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe tribe. The
Growing Circle members will try to ensure the squash doesn't become
cross-pollinated to preserve its purity.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault preserves hundreds of thousands
of varieties and species of fruit, vegetable and crop seeds
in Norway. (CropTrust.org photo)
Vegetables and fruits available in modern grocery stores represent
a small fraction of varieties extant, says Mother
Nature Network. For the past century, food producers have put
their efforts into growing varieties that give a high yield or can
withstand the time and rough handling of transporting the produce
a long distance. However, people around the world are working to
preserve and propagate varieties of plants that used to be in the
There has been news in recent years about botanists and historians
working to restore and retain endangered plants and seeds that may
be lost forever if action isn't taken.
A Native American researcher in Vermont has been reproducing
the horticulture that existed in his state before Europeans arrived.
Frederick Wiseman, retired professor and expert on ethno-botany,
spent years researching and working with the Maya civilization in
Guatemala and Mexico. But for the past two decades he's turned his
attention to plants native to his homeland.
Dr. Wiseman now works to identify and preserve ancient seeds
which were vital to the Abenaki Native Americans of northeastern
North America. The history of the indigenous plants reveals a wealth
of information that would otherwise have been lost in time. He has
traced 26 different varieties, including squash, beans, corn, artichokes,
ground cherries and tobacco, Ancient
Origins reported in February 2015.
Dr. Wiseman, of Abenaki ancestry himself, gives presentations
on his work, "Chasing Seeds: The discovery and restoration of Ancient
Wabanaki crops" at the Vermont Archaeology Heritage Center.
Archaeology Heritage Center writes of their Seeds
of Renewal project that it has "developed a complex strategy
to recover the produce raised and consumed by the Vermont Abenakis
and their relatives in Maine, Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes.
In addition to multiple cultivated varieties of the so called 'three
sisters' of corn, beans and squash, [the project] recovered more
unusual ancient crops such as husk tomatoes, sunflowers, gourds
Fred Wiseman is not alone in his quest to preserve ancient seeds.
Botanical researcher Elaine Solowey has nurtured more than 100 rare
or near-extinct species back to life as part of a 10-year project
to study plants and herbs used as ancient cures. She has grown plants
and herbs used in Tibetan, Chinese and biblical medicine, as well
as traditional folk remedies from other cultures to see whether
their effectiveness can be scientifically proved.
squash seeds; these are not the same squash seeds as those
recently revived by Native Americans. (Creative Commons/Flickr)
Most notably, Dr.
Solowey resurrected an extinct date palm from 2,000-year-old seeds
found in an archaeological dig at Masada, in the southern district
of Israel. The Judean date palm had been purposefully eradicated
in ancient Judea in 70 A.D. by the invading Roman Empire.
seed vault can store up to 4.5 million varieties and species,
for a total capacity of 2.5 billion seeds. (CropTrust.org
To try to ensure planet Earth maintains its great heritage of
edible plants, scientists years ago founded the Svalbard
Global Seed Vault, the storage facility in Norway that preserves
more than 860,000 food-crop seeds as of 2015. The operation is financed
by the government of Norway and the Global
Crop Diversity Trust, the mission of which is to conserve the
planet's crop diversity for the food security of current and future
Plants range "from unique varieties of major African and Asian
food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum to
European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley,
and potato. In fact, the vault already holds the most diverse collection
of food crop seeds in the world," says