Secretary of Natural Resources Office


Heirloom Garden

Aerial view of Cherokee Heirloom and Native Plant Garden.Prior to being forced to depart their eastern homelands, Cherokees grew an abundance of plants for food, cultural ceremonies, and medicinal uses. The Trail of Tears led to a significant setback in the volume and variety of these crops, some to the point of extinction. Little more than a decade ago, CN staff began having discussions with elders and other citizens about the impact this has had our people. There was a communal sense of loss in connection to the plants Cherokees used hundreds of years ago.  What remained was found mostly in family gardens and handed down through kin; but there was not a collective approach to harvest and preserve these precious plants that are deeply rooted in Cherokee tradition.  

Pat Gwin, Senior Director of Environmental Resources, is credited with establishing Cherokee Nation’s first Native Plant Garden in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  The garden serves as an educational platform in the present and provides a legacy for future generations to understand the plants that their ancestors used.  Visitors, citizens, and students are able to take guided tours learn about the traditional plants cultivated there, such as white eagle & flour corn, redroot, rivercane, Trail of Tears beans, jewelweed, potatoes, Cherokee dipper gourds, New Jersey tea, elderberry, and chinquapin trees. Pat’s own words speak directly to the garden’s significance: “You can’t be Cherokee without Cherokee plants. And without Cherokee plants, there can be no Cherokee”. 

The Heirloom Garden helps to preserve tribal culture as well as Cherokee language through local school programs. Edifying symbology is thoughtfully embedded in the garden’s design and includes Cherokee signage to identify each plant.  The heirloom crops and native plants grown each year also help replenish the Cherokee Nation Seed Bank.  The Seed Bank is a plant and cultural preservation program that provides seeds to tribal citizens who are interested in growing traditional Cherokees crops.

Heirloom crops grown this year:

  • Corn
    • Cherokee Colored Flour
    • Cherokee White Flour
    • Cherokee White Eagle
  • Beans
    • Cherokee Long Greasy
    • Trail of Tears
    • Turkey Gizzard Black
    • Turkey Gizzard Brown
  • Squash
    • Georgia Candy Roaster
  • Gourds
    • Basket
    • Dipper
    • Jewel
    • Buffalo Gourds
  • Trail of Tears Beads
    • Indian Corn Beads
  • Tobacco
    • Native Tobacco

Native Plants

  • American Basket Flower
  • Buttonbush
  • Cutleaf Coneflower
  • Green Dragon
  • Hearts-a-bustin
  • Jewelweed
  • Possum Grape
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Rattlesnake master
  • Sunchoke
  • Trumpet Vine
  • Wild Senna