Native Plants

While living in our ancestral Homeland, located in present-day Southwestern Kentucky, Western Tennessee, Northern Mississippi and Northwestern Alabama, our ancestors were stewards of the earth. The Homeland provided food, medicine, clothing, shelter and other materials our Chickasaw ancestors needed through the variety of plants and trees that grew near our villages.

We learned to grow vegetables, including tanchi' (corn), bala' (beans) and olbi' (squash), to support our people. This method of gardening is referred to as Three Sisters gardening, because the three plants help one another to grow. The corn stalk serves as a pole for the beans to grow around, the beans add nitrogen to the soil and the squash leaves provide shade to the mound helping to maintain moisture and prevent weeds.

Our ancestors gathered wild foods from the Homeland, such as panki' (grapes), onkof (persimmons), bissa' (berries), nihi' (nuts) and many others. Our medicines also came from the land, and skilled alikchi’ (doctors) drew from plants like yaupon holly, willow, cedar, feverwort and button snakeroot, to name a few.

Many of our tools were made from sturdy hardwoods like oak, hickory and walnut. Our basketry, blowguns, bows and arrows, and the frames of our winter homes were formed from rivercane, and our cords, nets and some of our clothing were made from the tough braided plant fibers like milkweed, mulberry bark and hemp.

Today, the Chickasaw Nation remains committed to preserving and protecting Chickasaw history and culture in our Homeland, which includes the native plants our ancestors used in their daily lives. The traditional uses for these plants have been passed down from generation to generation and are still practiced today. These plants played a pivotal role in shaping Chickasaw culture, and the Chickasaw Nation continues to preserve these plants in our Homeland.

The Culturally Significant Plants of the Chickasaw Homeland brochure describes many of the plants in the Homeland and how each was vital to the Chickasaw way of life. The brochure also shares the current Chickasaw Nation efforts in preserving and protecting these native plants. To request a physical copy of the brochure, please contact the Chickasaw Nation Heritage Preservation Division in Ada, Oklahoma, at (580) 272-1285, or the Homeland Affairs Office in Tupelo, Mississippi, at (662) 260-5170.