Agriculture has a long and rich history in the Greater Southwest. The earliest evidence of agriculture in the region comes from the Tucson Basin, where early farmers were growing corn by at least 4,000 years ago. Over the subsequent millennia, crops became adapted to the Southwest’s diverse tapestry of environmental conditions and cultural preferences. The resulting agricultural legacy represents an irreplaceable treasure and a lifeline to regional food security in a warming and drying future.
The origins of Southwestern crops are complex and fascinating stories. Only a few plants historically cultivated by the region’s indigenous peoples are in fact truly native to the Southwest. Many others, such as chiles, beans, corn, and squash, were domesticated in central Mexico or further south, and arrived in the Southwest via trade and human migration. Still others, such as chickpeas, melons, and wheat, were brought from the Old World by Spanish colonists in the much more recent past.
For nearly 30 years Native Seeds/SEARCH has worked to conserve the stunning crop diversity developed by the complex interplay among the Southwest’s plants, peoples and environments. In celebration of the contributions made to our agricultural heritage by the native plants and peoples of central and southern Mexico, this year’s Adopt a Crop features five plants from the NS/S collection which hail from south of the Tropic of Cancer, each from a different state in Mexico.
In 2012, bring a unique piece of tropical Mexico into your life and help us continue the rich tradition of plant exchange from the tropical latitudes of Mexico to the arid Southwest. Please make a donation to adopt one of these crops and join us in our shared stewardship of seeds and cultures.
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2012 Adopt a Crop Selections
Chia (Salvia hispanica): Chia was historically one of the main staple foods of the Aztecs, and was even used to pay tribute to royalty. Chia is gaining popularity today due to its impressive nutritional benefits: the seeds, which may be ground, eaten whole, or soaked in water, are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The plant is a beautiful upright annual with lavender flowers. Our seeds were collected in Mexico City in 1979.
Chiapas Wild Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme): Hailing from southern Mexico, the small cherry-sized fruits of this wild tomato are sweet and flavorful (they’ve been described as tasting like candy!). The sprawling bushes are prolific throughout the summer heat. Our original collection of this tomato was made in Chiapas in 1985. Our 2012 growout will enable us to make this wildly popular tomato available for distribution again!
Morelos Devil’s Claw (Proboscidea triloba): Used as basketry material and as a food source, devil’s claws are among the more unusual plants cultivated or harvested by the indigenous peoples of the Southwest and Mesoamerica. This wild annual species is native to southern Mexico. It produces 3-4” fruit and beautiful violet flowers which are very fragrant. Like other wild devil’s claws, it produces black seeds (domesticated devil’s claws typically have white seeds). Our seeds were originally collected in the state of Morelos.
Pulque Sucking Gourd (Lagenaria siceraria): Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from the sap, or “aguamiel,” of the maguey plant (Agave americana). Traditionally, the stalk of a mature maguey would be cut at the base, and the accumulating aguamiel would be collected twice daily by sucking it into a long gourd with holes cut into both ends. It would then be fermented to produce the white foamy drink known as pulque. This pulque sucking gourd was collected by NS/S co-founder Barney Burns in 1984 in Hidalgo, a major center of pulque production.
Wild Cushaw Squash (Cucurbita argyrosperma var. sororia): Cushaws are the most important of the domesticated squashes grown in low desert areas of the Southwest. Small-fruited and inedible wild forms occur from southern Sonora south through Central America. It is thought that the edible form was domesticated in central Mexico at least 5,000 years ago. Wild relatives of domesticated crops are invaluable genetic resources for improvement of domesticated forms, so their conservation is of utmost importance. This wild squash was collected in Nayarit, near the Pacific coast of central Mexico.