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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/56

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Washington Territory, but which is a smaller and useless plant, easily distinguished by its ferruginous, scurfy leaves.

Gooseberries and Currants.—In the valley of the Mississippi and in the mountains of the Far West, a large number of species of Ribes are found which, for the most part would be called gooseberries, but among them at least one should be considered as a currant. Some of these plants are showy and interesting, but they are of very little utility. Several of them fruit abundantly, but the berries are insipid or even disagreeable to the taste. In the drier portions of Oregon and Northern California a species of Ribes is very abundant and a noticeable feature in the vegetation. It forms tufts or thickets which in the late summer are loaded with red and attractive fruit, but it is only a disappointment, the flavor being flat and insipid, so that it is never eaten by man. In the mountains of Utah I have seen a large and strong species bearing in great abundance a nearly smooth, purplish-brown berry. No small fruit could be more inviting, but it is never eaten; the taste is disagreeable, and the inhabitants have a conviction that it is poisonous.

Nuts.—The Indians of the Eastern States valued more highly, and gathered more abundantly than the whites have since done, the chestnuts, hickory-nuts, walnuts, and butternuts that are here so abundant. For these the Western Indians are compelled to content themselves with acorns and pine-nuts, for there are no chestnut nor hickory trees in all the Western country. The only nuts, indeed, to be found there are the chinquapin of Oregon (Castanopsis chrysophylla) and the nogal of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (Juglans rupestris), the latter a perfect "black walnut," but not larger than a boy's marble.

Pine-Bark.—One article of subsistence sometimes employed by the Indians is only resorted to when they are driven to great straits by hunger. Around many of the watering-places in the pine-forests of Oregon and California the trees of Pinus ponderosa may be seen stripped of their bark for a space of three or four feet near the base of the trunk. This has been accomplished by cutting with a hatchet a line around the tree as high up as one could conveniently reach, and another lower down, so that the bark, severed above and below, could be removed in strips. At certain seasons of the year a mucilaginous film (the liburnum) separates the bark from the wood of the trunk. Part of this film adheres to each surface and may be scraped off. The resulting mixture of mucilage-cells and half-formed wood is nutritious and not unpalatable, so that, as a last resort, it may be used as a defense against starvation. The frequency with which signs of its having been resorted to are met with is a striking indication of the uncertainties and irregularities of the supply department among savages.