How would I find indigenous, heirloom seeds that were native to my location for gardening?

ChrisHaukoos Posts: 12 ✭✭✭
edited April 2022 in Other News

Hi! I'm interested in finding heirloom seeds that the indigenous people used to farm with in my area. I'm in the southwest/central part of Wisconsin. After a little research (hopefully, it is correct) I found that the people of this area were the Western Dakota and Ho-Chunk tribes. I am wondering where I could find heirloom maize, or squash, beans, tomatoes, and potatoes etc. (suggestions on other edible garden plants) that are indigenous to my local area. I'm looking to be as authentic as possible with the seeds, but would use modern methods like raised beds, compost etc. to grow them. Side question if this "indigenous approach" would actually be more beneficial in the bigger picture in terms of health and quality production than more modern heirloom seeds. Thanks in advance!!!


  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,215 admin

    @ChrisHaukoos What an interesting pursuit. Hopefully somebody here will be able to find some good resources for you.

    I am busy looking for what they used (& how) off the land in my area, moreover than farming. I think in my region they were more the hunter-gatherer nomadic types of groups.

    Would you be able to talk to elders of these groups? They might be your best resource.

    Have you searched "indigenous cultivated heirlooms, Wisconsin"? Try various search engines as well. Start Page is my favorite to use, but of course there are many others. Each will find slightly (or maybe even vastly) different results.

    Maybe check out local historical societies or regional seed organizations/nurseries. Perhaps you have a native plant nursery or organization in your area that could help with finding resources.

    @torey I know you work with indigenous groups in your region. What would you suggest?

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,402 admin

    @ChrisHaukoos This is a worthy project that you are undertaking. I will be planting tobacco seeds (to be used for ceremonial purposes) with my local First Nation on Tuesday. I found some seeds that are native to southern BC and northern US states. Northern West Coast and Alaska First Nations had potatoes growing here at the time of first contact, so I have obtained some of that variety and we will be planting those in a few weeks. But potatoes aren't native to North America. They arrived here by way of trade. This map documents the potato’s roundtrip journey from the New World (South America) to the Old World (Europe) and back to North America. Dotted lines show possible sources of the Ozette, Kasaan, To-Le-Ak and Maria’s cultivars and their route up the west coast.

    But I digress. Here are some links that you might find useful.

    First Nations in Wisconsin. This page list all the Nations in Wisconsin. You can see which ones are closest to you and there are links to each nation. They may be open to sharing their knowledge with you, if you explain your interest in learning about indigenous traditions. Be patient and respectful:

    University of Wisconsin-Madison - A list of native plant species in Wisconsin (not all were used by First Nations:

    This is an article about an Indigenous garden at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison. It is most probably worth a visit:

    Another article about “rematriating” indigenous seeds and plants; there may be useful links for you:

    Heritage Flower Farm - This company seems to offer heirloom native plants for Wisconsin:

    Wisconsin Invasive Species - This will give you a list of non-native species so you know what to avoid:  

    This is a list of Lone Pine Publishing books; there are several for the Wisconsin area under the gardening section:

    Best of luck with your efforts.

  • ChrisHaukoos
    ChrisHaukoos Posts: 12 ✭✭✭
    edited April 2022

    Thank you @LaurieLovesLearning for your comment, & @torey for these fantastic resources!!! I have a lot of work to do now. Hopefully, I will be able to find seeds in time to plant for this year's season. What do you think of my last thought as a first year gardener if I should perhaps stick to more tried and true methods of gardening, and of obtaining commercial heirloom seeds, I'm thinking potatoes, (but which variety?) tomatoes, beans, squash, corn or maize, garlic, onions.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,402 admin

    @ChrisHaukoos Try Seed Savers Exchange.

    This is their listing for a heritage corn that was grown in the Vermont region, probably by First Nations. At the very least it is a type of flint corn that was grown by Native Americans.

    This is one for beans.

    I'm sure if you go through their catalogue, you will find other seeds that can be attributed to First Nations culture.

    Seed Savers is a very worthwhile organization, keeping heritage strains of plants from disappearing. It sounds like it would work very well into what you have in mind. You could be one of the people keeping these varieties alive.

    The Ozette potato is the one that the Makah people of Washington State were growing (see above) at the time of first contact. It is more closely related to original Peruvian species than those from Europe. Grand Teton Organics has them although they are quite expensive.

    Irish Eyes Garden Seeds also has them and they are even more expensive.

    So maybe that's a standard price for potatoes? I'm not sure. I bought my Haida potatoes from a local supplier and they were only $3 per pound.

  • water2world
    water2world Posts: 1,046 ✭✭✭✭

    @ChrisHaukoos Thank you for this post. You have made me start thinking/wondering about my area. I want to research this.

  • Cornelius
    Cornelius Posts: 872 ✭✭✭✭ sells many varieties of heirloom seeds and you could possibly find some that Native Americans grew (I know they sell the Trail of Tear bean that is believed to be from the Cherokee).

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,827 ✭✭✭✭✭

    There is much good information and sources available online, but I encourage you to reach out to local gardeners as well. You may find that some of these local heirloom varieties have been quietly preserved in back yards or small market gardens, and seed may be available.

    Also, you might want to read _Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden_. While this classic looks at 19th century First Nations (Hidatsa) gardening in North Dakota, your Wisconsin climate and conditions may not be too different from the rich bottomlands of the North Dakota rivers.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,215 admin

    @ChrisHaukoos You could also check here:

    Or also search for Ark of Taste & see what else shows up for you!