Museum program delves into native plants and indigenous culture


In a raised garden bed outside the Johnson County History Museum, a tribute to the region’s indigenous culture has begun to grow.

Here, local gardeners planted the “Three Sisters” – corn, beans and squash. Native Americans learned to grow the three staple crops together, both to save space in their gardens and because the three benefit each other as they grow.

The garden is part of a pioneer plot around the Hendricks cabin, located outside the museum. Teaching about the types of plants used by early settlers and native cultures thousands of years before them is an important part of local history.

A program planned for Thursday hopefully illuminates this tradition. Karen La Mere, naturalist with Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation, as well as a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, will share the knowledge accumulated by her people over generations.

She will present a show about native plants and indigenous people, explaining how her ancestors took advantage of the plants that were already growing around them, as well as ways people today can do the same.

The program is sponsored by the museum in partnership with the Trafalgar Country Gardeners, a club of area growers who focus on service and education throughout the community. They hold a plant sale every year and help out with the Trafalgar Community Garden.

Often they host guest speakers with their expertise on gardening and nature.

From that goal, the group wanted to bring La Mere to Johnson County, said Rich Gotshall, museum volunteer and Trafalgar Country Gardeners program chair.

“The club runs public programs throughout the year, and that’s one of our missions,” Gotshall said. “We have programs on all kinds of subjects – mushrooms, tree care, flowers, vegetables. Everything about gardening. So we thought it was a good way to do that and bring people to the museum.

La Mere is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, an indigenous group based in southwestern and central Wisconsin. The nation was formerly known as the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe, but changed it in 1993 to restore its historically accurate name.

About 8,000 people are part of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

In previous presentations, La Mere described important plants that she could still forage and find in the wild. Wild strawberries are eaten on the ground, elderberries make delicious pastries and black raspberries

Botanicals such as lemon balm, spearmint, and horehound could be made into tea. Lavender could reduce anxiety, sage was used to treat wounds, and oregano relieved stomach pain and itching.

“My wife is a member of the Indiana Native Plant Society, so we watched Karen’s presentation on Zoom. I thought it was a really different approach to planting,” Gotshall said.

The program is free and open to the public. No registration necessary.


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