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Blazing Star

Scientific Name:
Mentzaelia laevicaulis
Family:
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: gu˙ha' (Kelly 1932); guuha (Couture et al. 1986); kuhu (Fowler 1989); kuha (Fowler 1989)
Description:

Plant

Mentzaelia laevicaulis is a perennial herb that grows from 20 to 100 cm tall. Its basal leaves are oblanceolate and pinnately lobed while its upper leaves are lanceolate and are dentate to serrate. The flowers can be up to 12 cm wide with 5 narrow, yellow petals. The fruits are erect and cylindrical and contain wide, winged and gray seeds. The species blooms from May to October. 

Identification Tips

Mentzaelia laevicaulis is distinguished by its large, bright yellow, star-shaped flowers that have many yellow stamen in the middle.

Starch Granules

This species is starch deficient. No starch granules were observed from the seeds.

Habitat:

Mentzaelia laevicaulis grows at elevations below 2900 m on sandy to rocky slopes, washes and roadcuts.

Distribution:

This species grows throughout Northwestern United States.

Ethnography:

The Northern Paiute used the seeds of Mentzaelia laevicaulis along with Mentzaelia albicaulis for food by grinding the seeds to create flour and mush (Fowler 1989).

As food

Northern Paiute: "Edible seeds included wüdü', zugü', and magu'g, which are unidentified, and also...gu˙ha' (Mentzelia albicaulis Dougl.); wa'˙da (Suaeda depressa var. erecta Wats.); wa˙'ta' (Chenopodium album L.); üyü'p (Chenopodium nevadense Standley); a'gü (Wyethia mollis Gray); pa (Helianthus annuus L.)." (Kelly 1932: 98)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of kuhu (whitestem blazing star, Mentzelia albicaulis)] kuhais grey colored, 5-6 in. high.  It is gathered in July.  It is gathered in piles and dried for 2-3 days.  They laid a skin of the ground and put the grass on it and beat it with a stick.  They winnowed it in a tray basket and stored it for winter.  It was roasted in charcoal in a tray basket.  They ground it on a metate and made a mush out of the flour.  Nowadays some of the old people mix it with flour and eat it." (Fowler 1989:46)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of kuhu (whitestem blazing star, Mentzelia albicaulis)] kuha grows around the lake.  It is smaller than alfalfa seed. It has orange or yellow colored seed [?].  The grass is about 8 or 10 in. high.  The bloom is yellow.  It is gathered in late July or August.  A small finely woven cone-shaped basket is used to harvest the seeds.  The seeds are knocked into the baskets with a seed beater shaped like a spoon.  It has a short handle and is twined.  It is called sigu.  The seeds are dried and piled on the metate to be rolled under the palm of the hand to free them from the husks.  Then the seed are winnowed with a tray-shaped basket.  Next they are roasted in a parching tray with hot coals.  They are thrown up in the air to keep them from burning.  When the seeds are cooked they are cleaned and put away in a bag.  When they are used they are ground on the metate and boiled." (Fowler 1989:46)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of kuhu (whitestem blazing star, Mentzelia albicaulis)] kuha is a plant found in the desert, especially in Smith Valley.  The plant looks like grass.  It is small and grows on the flats or in the hills.  It is not found every year.  It has very small grey seeds that are oily when ground.  The grass is pulled by hand and thrown into the burden basket.  It is carried to a large pile which is left to dry for about a week.  Then the pile of grass is pounded up and separated from the chaff and dirt by winnowing.  The seeds are put on a finely woven parching tray with hot coals.  The seeds and coals are tossed in the air just enough to prevent the basket from burning.  From time to time the seeds are tested between the fingers to see if they are cooked.  When the seeds are cooked the large coals are raked off with the fingers.  The other coals are removed by winnowing in a breeze.  If there is no breeze the operator blows on the seeds as she tosses them in the air.  Then the seeds are ground and they are ready to be mixed with hot water to make mush." (Fowler 1989:46)

Other

Northern Paiute: "The concentration of resources at Malheur Lake fostered social gatherings.  Our consultants among the Burns Paiute confirm Whiting's (1950) statements that large numbers of people congregated there in late summer to harvest waada seeds, to fish, and to hunt migratory fowl.  Other seeds also were harvested there, including saltbrush, giant wild rye, Indian rice grass, and blazing star." (Couture et al. 1986:154)

Northern Paiute: "A number of wild plant species are tolerated, encouraged, or even transplanted to yards and fields on the reservation...Those encouraged or tolerated include willow, red-osier dogwood, balsamroot, blazing star, giant wild rye, juniper, bulrush, cattail, biscuitroot, and wild onion." (Couture et al. 1986:157)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of kuhu (whitestem blazing star, Mentzelia albicaulis)] kuha grows on the hillsides.  It grows just like a tumbleweed and the leaves are greyish.  It grows by Winnemucca lake.  To get it, pull the plant by the roots and dry the plant and seeds." (Fowler 1989:46)

Distribution Map: