The Plum Bayou Garden at Toltec Mounds State Park

Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera) blossom
Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera) blossom

 

View into the Plum Bayou Garden through the Cedar arbor entryway
View into the Plum Bayou Garden through the Cedar arbor entryway. Denver Ellis and other Boy Scouts from Troop 18 played a major role in constructing the arbor and gardens.

 

Dr. Horton (kneeling) and Arkansas Master Naturalist volunteers transplanting rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) into the Plum Bayou Garden, Spring 2015 (Photo by Patrick Solomon, Arkansas Master Naturalists)
Dr. Horton (kneeling) and Arkansas Master Naturalist volunteers transplanting rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) into the Plum Bayou Garden, Spring 2015 (Photo by Patrick Solomon, Arkansas Master Naturalists)

 

Liz Horton (Arkansas Archeological Survey, Toltec Mounds Research Station)

When visitors to Toltec Mounds Archeological Park are asked, “what did the Indians of Arkansas eat,” they will, almost to a person, reply “corn, beans, and squash.” While this triad of tropical crops, often referred to as the “Three Sisters,” does reflect the food staples used by the late prehistoric agricultural peoples of the Southeast, these plants were only the latest additions to an already existing sophisticated system of land management and horticulture that stretched back thousands of years. Long before the introduction of tropical crops such as maize (corn), the Indians of Arkansas were planting and tending multiple locally domesticated crop plants. Known as the Eastern North American Crop Complex, these ancient domesticated and cultivated crops included sumpweed, maygrass, little barley, sunflower, goosefoot, erect knotweed, a specific kind of squash (Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera), and bottle gourds. In addition, the Late Woodland Indians of the Central Arkansas River Valley we know as the “Plum Bayou Culture” were intensively utilizing a still unidentified cereal grain, known only as “Type X” grass.
Arkansas Archeological staff and volunteers from the UALR and Pulaski Technical College, Anthropology clubs, and Arkansas Master Naturalists helping build the Plum Bayou Garden, Spring 2015
Arkansas Archeological staff and volunteers from the UALR and Pulaski Technical College, Anthropology clubs, and Arkansas Master Naturalists helping build the Plum Bayou Garden, Spring 2015

 

This summer the Arkansas Archeological Survey in cooperation with Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, with funding from an Arkansas Humanities Council and National Endowment for the Humanities grant and with the help of local volunteers, is completing a permanent new interpretive landscape – The Plum Bayou Garden. The garden will highlight the several thousand year history of plant domestication and gardening and farming among the Indians of Arkansas, and features wild progenitors of ancient Eastern North American crops, modern varieties of crop plants that are similar to ancient ones, as well as a smaller selection of key wild plant resources used intensively for both food and technological purposes. The garden will have four permanent interpretive wayside panels and is handicap accessible. Arkansas State Park interpreters at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park will use both the garden landscape and its products in public programming and tours. The Plum Bayou Garden has also been set up as an active “experimental archeology” garden for use by archeologists from the Arkansas Archeological Survey and by graduate and undergraduate students. In this role it will feature plants grown for modern studies of the processes of domestication as well as for comparative collections to help aid in the identification of archeological plant remains.

Read more about this project in the Plum Bayou Garden brochure!

The Plum Bayou Garden formally opened to the public on July 25, 2015. To learn more about ancient Eastern North American crops and Arkansas’s First Farmers, and to see these critical plants in person, come visit the Plum Bayou Garden at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park! To volunteer in the garden, or make inquiries regarding experimental studies, contact Dr. Elizabeth T. Horton at ethorton@uark.edu or 501-961-2420.
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)  in bloom in the Plum Bayou Garden
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in bloom

 

View of the Plum Bayou Garden, June 2015
View of the Plum Bayou Garden, June 2015

 

Sunflower blossom (Helianthus annuus) Plum Bayou Garden, June 2015
Sunflower blossom (Helianthus annuus) Plum Bayou Garden, June 2015

 

Eliiott’s Blueberries (Vaccinium elliottii) in the economic shrubs adjacent to the Plum Bayou Garden, June 2015
Eliiott’s Blueberries (Vaccinium elliottii) in the economic shrubs adjacent to the Plum Bayou Garden, June 2015

 

Goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) flowering in the Plum Bayou Garden, June 2015
Goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) flowering in the Plum Bayou Garden, June 2015