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White cornmeal can be found in quick growing corn

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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According to the Tohono O'odham Indians the Creator was troubled at the thought that all children would grow old, their skin will become wrinkled, their hair turn gray, they will lose their teeth and even the flowers ground them will fade and die. Then the Creator noticed sunlight and shadows and yellow leaves whipped by the wind against the blue sky. So the Creator gathered some sunlight, some sky, a few bright leaves, white cornmeal and even the children's shadows and put them all into his creation bag. At the last moment as an afterthought, he added bird songs. He gave the bag to the children and told them to open it for a big surprise. When the children opened the bag, thousands of brightly colored butterflies fluttered out to thrill the children. As the butterflies started singing, a songbird flew to the shoulder of the Creator and scolded him, reminding the Creator that he gave every bird his own song, but now the butterflies have taken all of the bird songs. The Creator agreed, and that is why to this day butterflies are beautiful to look at but have no song.

You may not be able to grow butterflies but you can grow traditional Tohono O'odham crops in your garden. The nest part is that since these plants have all been cultivated for centuries in the unforgiving deserts of the American southwest they are very hardy and drought tolerant.

The white cornmeal used to create butterflies can be found in the Tohono O'odham 60-Day Sweet Corn. The amazingly quick growing corn has very short stalks that produce six-to 10-inch long ears of white kernels. Occasionally a blue kernel or two shows up. This corn is roasted and then dried while still in the milk stage. This white corn makes great masa cornmeal when left to fully mature.

Tohono O'odham Yellow-Meated Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), called Gepi in the Tohono language, is an oval green melon with sweet yellow or beautiful orange flesh. This is a surprisingly high yielding plant that regularly produces large melons up to to 35 pounds each. Thanks to its home in southern Arizona it is famous for being able to grow in intense heat under rough conditions.

The Tohono O'odham U'us mum Bean is a colorful bean that can be all black, white with black splotches or mixed half black and half white. It is used as a green bean when young or left to dry for baking beans.

The Tohono O'odham grow something most people have never seen, the Devil's Claw (Proboscidea parviflora). Devil's Claw was given to the people by the Creator so the fibers could be woven into the designs on baskets so each tribe could tells its baskets apart form the others.

This plant has been cultivated for thousands of years but is rare throughout the rest of the country. The oddly shaped seedpods are sometimes used for decoration or crafts.

One of the oldest crops grown by the Tohono O'odham is the Tohono O'odham Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius). This Sonoran Desert native bean has been cultivated by desert-dwelling tribes for 4,000 years. Because of their desert background tepary beans are now grown in arid regions throughout the world.

A very unusual squash is the Tohono O'odham Cushaw (Cucurbita argyrosperma). This squash is different from most squash in that it is grown mostly for its nutritious seeds. The young squash can be cooked like summer squash or zucchini but often the mature squash has inedible flesh. The seeds have lots of protein and zinc which helps bone strength. They were traditionally eaten to fight tapeworms and their oil helps lower cholesterol. Because of their high fiber content squash seeds make you feel full longer and help prevent weight gain.

Tohon O'odham seeds are found at seed swaps, from the members of the Seed Savers exchange ( under member listings) and from specialty heirloom seed companies such as Native Seeds Search (, Southern Exposure Seeds ( and Reimer Seeds ( Seed Savers Exchange — Saving America's Heirloom Seeds A non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom vegetables, flowers and fruits. Membership information, online catalog.

For something different this year try growing Tohono O'odham traditional crops. If you feel fuller, more satisfied and even more peaceful that giddy feeling in your stomach isn't just your imagination. It may be butterflies.

Copyright 2016 Cape Gazette, Lewes, Delaware. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: April 26, 2016

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