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Ethnobiology

Plants and animals always have held places of importance to Cherokee people. 

Many plants continue to be important to the traditional Cherokee way of life. 

 

Animals also are highly symbolic part of our existence.

 

Below are several plants and animals that have significant meaning to Cherokees. Click the name of each for more information and its importance in Cherokee culture and history (PDF reader required).

 

Animals

Bald Eagle

In Cherokee Nation, bald eagles generally are found from October to March near permanent sources of water. However, there are more resident eagles staying in this area year-round. 

Blue Heron

Great blue herons typically are found wading near the shoreline of any water body looking for fish, crayfish, frogs, salamanders and any other food they can swallow.

Cardinal

Cardinals can be found throughout Cherokee Nation as well as in the Cherokee ancestral homelands in the eastern United States.

Cottonmouth

Cottonmouths typically are found near permanent water sources with plenty of cover. They are quick to show their cottony-looking mouths (hence the name) if bothered.

Cottontail

Eastern cottontail rabbits are found throughout much of the eastern United States. They prefer any habitat that provides them with ample cover and den or nest-building materials.

Gray Squirrel

Gray squirrels can be found in almost any habitat in northeast Oklahoma but prefer areas that have mast-producing trees, such as oak, hickory, pecan, walnut.

Great Egret

Great egrets can be found anywhere there is a shoreline. Although not as common as the great blue heron, they can be found in the same locations. However, the great egret is only found in this region from late spring to early fall.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawks are found in many different types of habitats throughout North and Central America. They hunt by using tall trees, cliffs and telephone poles as vantage points where their excellent eyesight is used to spot prey from great distances.

Snowy Egret

Snowy egrets, though much smaller than the great blue heron and great egret, are large wading birds with white feathers. Snowy egrets can be found anywhere there is a shoreline.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed deer can be found in just about any habitat east of the Rocky Mountains. During the turn of the 20th century, deer numbers were at an all-time low. After tremendous conservation efforts, numbers are higher now than they have been in recent history.

Plants

Black Walnut

The black walnut mainly grows in bottomland flood plains but also can be found on hilltops where the seeds were most likely planted by squirrels.

Blackberry

When not eaten raw, blackberry mainly are used for baking pies and cobblers. Many birds and other wildlife love blackberry as well. Blackberries can be found growing just about anywhere in Cherokee Nation.

Bloodroot

Bloodroot can be found growing just about anywhere in Cherokee Nation. It is short-lived and goes dormant during mid-summer after the seeds mature.

Buckbrush

Buckbrush can be found growing throughout most of Cherokee Nation.Buckbrush has been used by Cherokees for many generations.

Dogwood

The Dogwood is an understory tree found throughout the Ozarks in a variety of settings, though almost always shaded out by the larger oaks/hickories.

Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar can be found in just about every type of habitat, throughout all of Oklahoma, except the Panhandle.

Huckleberry

The huckleberry plant grows in dense thickets in the understory of upland hardwood forests in the Ozark Plateau. The Huckleberry Festival is held in Jay in honor of this fruit every year around Independence Day.

Osage Orange

Osage orange trees are a small to medium sized tree and can be found in stream bottom environments throughout Oklahoma.

Persimmon

The persimmon tree grows in the eastern half of the U.S. and in the eastern half of Oklahoma usually in valleys and uplands where rich soil can be found.

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master is a perennial plant found in prairies, along roadsides and in wooded areas. This plant was likely never widespread, but now is becoming even more scarce.

Red Oak

Northern Red Oaks are more common than Southern Red Oaks and can be found throughout most of Cherokee Nation. Southern Red Oaks are primarily found only in the southern halves of Adair and Cherokee counties and throughout Sequoyah County.

River Cane

River cane can be found growing near streams in Adair, Cherokee and Delaware counties. Large stands still remain on portions of the Illinois River.

Shagbark

Shagbark hickory can be found growing in the oak-hickory forests in Adair, Cherokee and southern Delaware counties.

Watercress

Watercress can be found growing in the clear and shallow streams of the Ozark region. Once such waterways are degraded by construction disturbance or pollution, this plant often disappears from the plant community.