Pomo Resource Use

Ethnographic Information on Seasonal Plant and Animal Resource Use

The earliest published mention of plant use by the Clear Lake people was written by Stephen Powers (1877:206) who states:

“In the spring when the wild clover is lush and full of blossoms, and they are eating it to satiety after the famine of winter…”

This table identifies each writer by letter who mentioned the use or collection of a plant or animal resource during a specific month or season.  Even though a particular resource might be mentioned repeatedly in one document, it is listed in the table only once.

The graph below is a composite of many of the resources listed in the ethnographic accounts.  The lines represent the seasonality of Upland resources (away from Clear Lake) as opposed to those available in the Lowland (lakeshore area) as listed by ethnographic reports.  

Resources which could be found in equal quantities in both Upland and Lowland environments were not used in the graph.   Upland resources included, buckeye, laurel, grape, manzanita, pine nuts and deer.  Lowland resources included willow, tule, nettle, tobacco, gooseberry, blackberry, clams, fish and ducks.

There appears to be a clear difference in the seasonal availability of Upland resources as opposed to those in the Lowlands.  The question is, were the upland resources important enough to the overall economy to pull people away from the resource-rich lakeshore for part of the year?


Clovers are mentioned by several of the ethnographers who have worked with the Pomo (Lewis et.al. 1935, Kniffen 1939, McLendon 1977, Loeb 1926). When trying to discover the species being referred to, it was found that “clover” was a term used by the Indians when referring to several different varieties of edible greens collected in the spring and early summer. Brown and Andrews (1969) listed 6 plants which came under the generic category of “Clovers.” Unless otherwise indicated, all were eaten as greens.

Miners Lettuce (Montia perfoliata) Annual, moist shaded areas below 5,000 ft. February-May.

Cowparsnip (Heracleum lanatum) Perennial, moist shaded areas below 9,000 ft. April-July.

Lupins (Lupinus densiflorus) Annual, open fields and hillsides below 2,000 ft. April-June.

Hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale) Annual, below 5,000 ft. April-July.

Goosefoots Chenopodium spp.) Annual, June-October.

Angelica greens (Angelica tomentosa) Moist and shaded areas below 7,000 ft. June-August. Young shoots eaten and taste like asparagus. Roots considered to have spiritual protective powers.

Fireweed (Epilobium spp.) Perennial, July-September.

Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.) Perennial, May-July.

Tule (Scirpus spp.) Perennial, below 4,000 ft. June-July. Base of young shoot pealed and eaten raw, root eaten.

Clover (Trifolium spp.) Annual, below 2,000 ft. March-June. In most cases, the young green tops were collected and eaten.

Oaks and Other Nut Bearing Trees

Probably the most widely published and perhaps the most important plant resource of the Clear Lake Pomo was the acorn.  As with “Clovers,” the oaks of the Clear Lake Basin were mentioned in early publications:

As important as acorns were, it was interesting to note that only Barrett (1908) and McLendon (1977) distinguished between the many varieties of oak and made note of the use of their respective seeds.

Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) Valleys and slopes below 2,000 ft. Known for good tasting acorns. These acorns were used for acorn bread (McLendon 1977).

California Black Oak (Q. keloggii) Hills and mountains 1,000-8,000 ft. Acorns from this tree were used for acorn mush, tall trunks used for poles and beams in lodge construction (Barrett 1908).

Pacific Post Oak/Oregon Oak (Q. garryana) Wooded slopes 1,000-5,000 ft.

Tan Bark Oak (Lithocarpus densiflora) wooded slopes below 4,500 ft.

Maul Oak/Canyon Oak (Q. chrysolepis) In canyons and on moist slopes below 6,500 ft.

Buckeye (Aesculus californica) Dry slopes and canyons below 4,000 ft. ?Fruit collected, ground, leached, then eaten.

California Laurel “Pepperwood” (Umbellularia californica) Canyons and Valleys below 5,000 ft. Seeds collected, outer “fleshy” part eaten, nuts ground, heated and made into small cakes, used as pepper-like condiment.

Digger Pine (Pinis sabiniana) Dry slopes and ridges below 4,500 ft. Nuts collected, roasted, eaten.

Sugar Pine (Pinis lambertiana) Forested areas 2,500-9,000 ft. Nuts collected, roasted, eaten.

There were two mentions of Hazelnut (Corylus californica) and Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) in the literature but their use was not specified (Barrett 1908, Loeb 1926).


A whole range of berries were mentioned in several of the publications, but none gave species names. Where possible, we have tracked them down.

Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) Brushy or wooded slopes 2,000-4,200 ft. Berries eaten fresh or mixed with water to make drink.

Gooseberry/Currant (Ribes spp.) Moist shaded places 0-7,000 ft.

Blackberry (R. vitifolius) Woods and damp places below 4,000 ft.

Salmon Berry (R. spectabilis) Moist spots in woods below 1,000 ft.

Thimble Berry
 (R. parviflorus) Canyons and open woods below 8,000 ft.

Salal Berry (Gaultheria shallon or ovatifolia)

Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum [brown seed] and parvifolium [red seed]) Dry slopes and canyons below 2,500 ft./woods and moist places below 5,000 ft.

Strawberry (Fragaria crinita and californica) Perennial, shaded damp places below 2,000 ft.

Raspberry (R. leucodermis) Slopes and canyons below 7,000 ft.

Hollyberry (unknown)

Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana and caerulea) Open flats, valleys and canyons below 4,500 ft.  Berry mixed with water to make drink.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) semidry brushy slopes and canyons below 4,000 ft.

Roots (no species names were given)

Soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) Dry open hills and plains, sometimes in woods, below 5,000 ft. Bulb boiled and eaten (see non-food uses below).

Anise Roots/Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) Perennial, low ground and moist places below 7,500 ft.

Cowparsnip Root (Heracleum lanatum) perennial, moist shaded areas below 9,000 ft. April-July.

Brodiaea (Brodiaea spp.) Perennial, “well developed in California containing spp. of horticultural merit” (Munz, 1970:1380).

Yellow Pond Lily (Nymphaeaceae Nuphar) Perennial, ponds and slow streams below 7,500 ft.

Squawroot (Perideridia Gairdneri) Wet places below 11,000 ft.

Arrowroot (Sagittaria latifolia) Wet marshy areas below 7,000 ft.

Blue Dicks (Brodiaea pulchella) Plains and hillsides below pine forest.

Tule (Scirpus pacificus, lacustris) Perennial, below 4,000 ft. June-July. Bulb pealed and eaten raw.

Wild Onion (Allium spp.)

Wild Potato? Solanum spp.)

Non-food Plant Use

In addition to the food plants, several of the writers listed non-food plant resources which were used for ceremonial purposes and the manufacture of tools, shelter, baskets, etc. (Barrett 1908, Lewis et.al. 1935, McLendon 1977, Loeb 1926, Allen 1972, Purdy 1900, Kroeber 1925).

Tule (Scirpus various spp.) Probably the most widely used plant. Used for the making of houses, boats, clothing, basketry, mats, etc.

Willow (Salix argyrophylla) probably the second-most widely utilized plant. Used for basketry foundation material, house construction, non-backed bows, leaves are mashed and mixed with charcoal to make paint and stain.

Soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) Juice from baked root used as a base for mixing body paint and stains; ground bulb was placed in still pool of water to stupefy fish; hairy outer covering used for brushes.

Wild Violet (Viola spp.) Juice of violet mixed with soot and water to make tattooing paste.

Alder (Alnus rhombifolia) Wood used for a variety of musical instruments (clapper sticks, whistles, etc.) and gaming sticks.

Wild Grape? Vitis californica) Stem split and used in tying and binding.

Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) Stem fibers used for twine.

Nettle (Urtica gracilis) Stem fibers used for twine.

Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) Strips of bark used in basketry and whole stems used for large twined baskets and traps.

Sedge (Carex lanuginosa, mendocinoensis) Roots stripped, split and used as main basketry twining and coiling material.

Wild Nutmeg (Torreya californica) Wood used for making sinew backed bows.