Cherokee Heirloom Seed Program Sprouts Again

January 31, 2011

Traditional Cherokee Jewelry Gourds

 TAHLEQUAH, Okla.—The days are getting longer and all good gardeners know what that means. It will soon be time to start your seeds for those spring and summer gardens. Cherokee gardeners will take delight in knowing that spring gardening season is just around the corner and Cherokee Nation is once again offering those gardeners a chance to grow a bit of the tribe’s history and culture in their own backyard.

For the past few years tribal citizens have had the opportunity to request heirloom seeds from the Cherokee Nation’s Natural Resources Department as part of a seed bank project. The seeds are for plants that have been researched to relate historically to the Cherokee Nation, such as Georgia Candy Roaster squash, Job’s Tears or Birdhouse and Dipper gourds. Other species offered by the program include varieties of corn, beans and tobacco. Most are rare cultivars not widely available through commercial means. 

Around 2,000 seed packets were mailed out to Cherokee Nation citizens throughout the U.S. and beyond last year. The NRD staff is gearing up to send out at least that many seeds this winter. The seeds are free but participating gardeners are asked to help re-stock the seed bank by sending back seeds from their crops to share with others via the seed bank.

A good variety will be available for request for the 2012 growing season. Beans and some other items will be very limited this year due to last year’s extreme weather in parts of the country.

“The heat and drought really diminished our inventories and prevented us from replenishing our seed bank with certain varieties. Fortunately, we had some folks from back east that sent us seeds, allowing us to still be able to give those items away,” said Mark Dunham, Natural Resources specialist.

“One thing that’s really cool that we have this year that we didn’t have last year is the jewel gourd,” said Dunham.

Dunham said the jewel gourds, which measure around 2-3 inches in diameter when mature, may have been worn ornamentally by Cherokees for centuries in a similar manner to how other tribes might wear a deerskin pouch. “You see designs sometimes that show people wearing jewel gourds on old eastern woodlands pottery,” Dunham said.

For more information about the seed exchange program, please visit Natural Resources’ webpage on or email You may specify up to two seed varieties and are encouraged to include an alternate selection in case your first choice is not available. Please include your name, a copy of your Cherokee Nation citizenship card (blue card), mailing address, and if requesting tobacco seeds, proof that you are over 18.


Cherokee Nation News Release
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