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Indian ricegrass

Scientific Name:
Achnatherum hymenoides
Family:
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: wy (Fowler 1989)
  2. Gosiute: wai (Chamberlain 1911)
Description:

Plant
This drought tolerant perennial bunch grass that grows 1-2 feet tall. In spring the plant has many tightly clustered, slender leaves which gives it a wiry, airy appearance. It bears a small dark seed on thin branchlets above the foliage. When the plant goes dormant, the foliage takes on a tan hue. Small seeds of this species are distinctively flask-shaped with hard seed coats appearing medium to dark-brown in color. Seeds often have hairs attached along the base. They measure 2.5-3.5 millimeters.

Starch granules
Monomodal (small). Highly angular starches, polyhedral. Dull cross with thin diffuse arms. Granule sizes range from 3-10 microns, with an average size of 6 microns. When heated, granules tend to clump together, forming amorphous conglomerates.

Habitat:

Achnatherum hymenoides grows in creosote bush scrub, bristle-cone pine forest, and lodgepole pine forest communities. It can be found from sea level up to 10,400 feet.

 

Distribution:

This plant can be found from the central United States west to the coast and north into Canada.

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Ethnography:

The Kawaiisu and Paiute were known to collect seed from this plant. Seeds were considered a staple food, often stored for winter consumption. Seeds could be ground into flour and eaten as a treatment for stomach aches, colic or aching bones.

As food
Northern Paiute: "[W]y grows in the desert. The tops of the plant are cut off with a stone knife and piled in large heaps. A fire is started close to the pile. This dried the plants and the seeds fall off. They are gathered up and cleaned in a small winnowing tray (yada). Men and women work together in gathering the seeds. The women do the winnowing. It is done in a gentle breeze. When the seeds have been separated from the dirt and coals they are put on a metate and the black husks are cracked. Then the seeds are winnowed again to separate them from the husks. Then the seeds are ground into flour on the metate. The flour is made into soup or mush. This was an extremely important plant in providing seeds. The flour from wy seeds was often mixed with pinenuts. Wy are still used a great deal. Some years due to drought the seeds of wy are very scarce. That is also true of pinenuts. Wy is gathered in July. The plants were dry and the seeds were good and ripe then. Wy is a good food to eat when someone has a bellyache, colic or aching bones.  When a person is suffering from any of these wy seeds should be the only food eaten. The seeds of the wy are stored for winter use. The seeds would keep two years without spoiling. The seeds were stored in pits. The pits were lined with willows and sagebrush bark. After the whites came the pits were lined with gunny sacks." (Fowler 1989:46)

Northern Paiute: "The people here used to go to a mountain called asaka ("red tipped") for wy.  When they were at asaka they got water about 15 miles away at Double Springs (osaba, "alkali")...Wy does not stay on the plants long. The winds blow the seeds off when they are ripe. When the people are through stacking up piles of wy they look for mounds of dirt where the meadow mice stores the seeds that have fallen on the ground. The women dig these up and get the seeds. It is cleaned and stored in baskets. Large quantities of seeds are gotten this way." (Fowler 1989:46)

Distribution Map: