Native Plants of Alaska


  • Tlingit external image alder_thumb.jpgAlder: Alder and cottonwood trees are the focus of this unit – other units feature spruce, cedar and hemlock. As residents of the lush rainforests of Southeast Alaska, Tlingit people were in touch with the land, plants and animals that share this home. They strived to live in harmony with the land. Nowadays, we have steadily increasing populations, massive increases in tourism and more demand for products from the land and seas. We, and the generations to follow, need to understand the complexities of this ecosystem to ensure resources are sustained not only for our children, but for our children’s children, and for centuries to come. (Unit) (Resources) (Audio)


  • external image berries_thumb.jpgBerries: Of all the natural subsistence foods of the Tlingit people, the wild berry, rich in vitamins and minerals, balances their diet. Before refined sugar was introduced into the Tlingit diet, berries were the sweeteners. Wild berries are still very special traditional foods. Some wild berries are not exactly palatable eaten alone. For example, currents and soap berries are best mixed with sweeteners. Some berries, like the salmonberry, are usually served mixed with cultivated berries or other fruits such as bananas. This mixture is a common food at Tlingit events and ceremonies. (Unit) (Resources) (Audio)


  • external image hemlock_thumb.jpgHemlock: The forest in Southeast Alaska is a Sitka Spruce/Western Hemlock rainforest. Western hemlocks are shade-loving trees. They begin their life cycle in the under­growth of the Sitka Spruce. The old-growth forest provides habitat for many birds, animals, insects and plants that young students can explore to begin to under­stand a forest ecosystem. Children will recognize the short, flat needles of the hemlock as “friendly” to touch. Historically, Tlingit people had many uses for hemlock trees. The rough, red­dish brown bark is used for tanning hides and producing the black dye for Chilkat Robes. (Unit) (Resources) (Audio)


  • external image plants_thumb.jpgPlants: Traditionally, Tlingit people gathered plants for food, medicine, making rope and nets, baskets and clothing, baby carriers and diapers. Trees provided shelter, tools, transportation and firewood for winter warmth. Although many needs are now met with commercially produced plant products, Tlingit people continue to gather plants for nutritious food, herbal medicine and to create cultural treasures. Tlingits believe everything has a spirit. Respect and thanks are expressed when gathering what nature provides. (Unit) (Resources) (Audio)


  • external image cedar_thumb.jpgRed & Yellow Cedar: For hundreds of years, the ocean and the forest have provided life sustaining resources for the Tlingit and Haida people of Southeast Alaska. Using red and yellow cedar trees they made their homes, canoes, clothing, tools, dishes, baskets and monument poles. Today, Tlingit and Haida people continue these traditions, holding deep respect for the cedar and the gifts that it provides to sustain and enrich peoples’ lives. (Unit) (Resources) (Audio)



  • external image spruce_thumb.jpgSpruce Trees: Upon settling in Southeast Alaska the Tlingit people evaluated their environment. They adapted their lives to what nature provided – which is a lot of species of trees. This unit explores the use of the spruce tree. The roots provided containers for cooking, hats to keep people dry and lashings for many of the tools used. The trunk gives us canoes, paddles and temporary shelters, and the pitch was melted down and used as an antiseptic on cut and burns. Many atóow—clan treasures—are carved from the trunks of spruce trees or woven from the roots. (Unit) (Resources) (Audio)