Plants Used by Native Californians

California's native flora includes a wide variety of plants thanks to the state's various climates. Native Californians relied on many of the native plants for food, clothing, medicine and ceremonial rituals. Nowadays, these native plants make great additions to the garden thanks to their drought tolerance tendencies and value for wildlife, birds and insects.

Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium)

Used by Native Americans as a drug in ceremonial rituals, jimson weed grows up to 5 feet in height. The annual herb sports pale green stems and leaves with a purplish-color on spreading branches. Jimson weed, also known as angel's trumpet, stink weed and thorn apple, features 4-inch white or purple flowers followed by 2-inch seed capsules. The capsules split into four parts once they ripen. All parts of the plant are poisonous.

Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Native Californians used the seeds from the common sunflower for food and the roots for medicine. Growing in dry, open areas, sunflowers grow up to 15 feet in height with flowers that ripen into large seed heads reaching up to 12 inches in width. The annual flower grows well in almost any well-drained soil as long as it receives full sun. Sunflowers tend to be drought resistant, but watering helps them reach maximum height. As the seed heads mature, birds and squirrels find the seeds, rich in oil and protein, an irresistible food source.

Cattail (Typha domingensis)

A perennial herb, cattail offered native Californians a valuable food source with the roots and seeds also used to make medicine. The stalks were used for bedding and material to construct houses. Growing primarily in wetland areas, cattails grow up to 6 feet tall, sporting long, narrow green leaves and tiny flowers that turn into large brown spikes on top. The perennial herb thrives in full sun. Once the spikes mature, birds use the fluff for nesting material.

Duckweed (Lemna minor)

The high fat and protein in duckweed made it useful as a food for native Californians. Even today, duckweed works well as an addition to soups and stews. Free-floating, seed bearing plants that grow in dense colonies, duckweed thrives on freshwater ponds, lakes and streams. The leaves and stems, referred to as fronds, barely reach one eighth of an inch in diameter, but the plant grows quickly in sun or shade. It quickly covers the surfaces of the water on which it grows, helping to reduce the growth of algae and providing herbivorous fish with food.

Keywords: Native Californian plants, Jimsonweed, Common Sunflower, Cattail, Duckweed

About this Author

Nancy Wagner is a marketing strategist, speaker and writer who started writing in 1998. Her articles have appeared in "Home Business Journal," "Nation’s Business," "Emerging Business," "The Mortgage Press," "Seattle: 150 Years of Progress," "Destination Issaquah," and "Northwest," among others. Wagner holds a Bachelor of Science in education from Eastern Illinois University.