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UT’s McClung Museum has partnered with UT Gardens to create a garden featuring food plants grown in the Americas thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

The project is the work of Gary Crites, the McClung Museum’s curator of paleoethnobotany; Susan Hamilton, UT Gardens director; James Newburn, UT Gardens assistant director; and Holly Jones, UT Gardens kitchen manager. They are establishing a Native American food plant space in UT Gardens that will contain examples of native plants domesticated as early as 5,000 years ago and plants cultivated as crops in eastern North America 3,800 years ago.

ern Gabby Stewart plants sumpweed, which was a domesticated food plant 4,400 years ago, in the Native American food plant space at UT Gardens.
Intern Gabby Stewart plants sumpweed, which was a domesticated food plant 4,400 years ago, in the Native American food plant space at UT Gardens.

Some of the plants will be available for the public to view starting May 7 and 8 during the Gardens’ 2016 Blooms Days Festival and Marketplace. Others will be growing during the summer and fall of 2016.

Different species of plants from the continental United States, Mexico, and South America will be grown each year to illustrate the great variety of plant species influencing, and being manipulated by, native peoples of the Americas in prehistory.

“While many people today are familiar with traditional Native American crops such as corn, beans, and squash, few are aware of a group of native ‘weeds’ and grasses with names like goosefoot, knotweed, sumpweed, maygrass, and little barley, which were being cultivated thousands of years ago,” Crites said.

Programming is planned surrounding the Native American food garden, including a Blooms Days lecture by Crites on Saturday, May 7. The talk, “Harvesting the Past: Plants, People, and Food Production in Prehistoric Eastern North America,” will be held from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. in Classroom A of the South Greenhouse.

Crites will use the garden for another talk, “American Indian Crops Before Columbus,” during UT Gardens’ Garden Explorers Camp for 6-to-11-year-olds held from June 7 to 10. More information about both events is available on the UT Gardens website.

The UT Gardens are located at 2518 Jacob Drive, and they are open from sunrise and sunset seven days a week. Although parking is limited during the work week, there are several parking spaces reserved for garden visitors. See the UT Gardens website for more information.

The McClung Museum is located at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission is free, and the museum’s hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays. See the museum’s website for more information about family programming, parking, and collections and exhibits.


Gary Crites (865-974-2144,

Susan Hamilton (865-974-8265,