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Reestablishing Roots of a Mohawk Community and a Culturally Significant Plant: Sweetgrass


Address correspondence to D. J. Shebitz, email


The restoration potential of Sweetgrass (Anthoxanthum nitens (Weber) Y. Schouten & Veldkamp) was evaluated through a field experiment conducted on Kanatsiohareke, a Mohawk farm, and at the LaFayette Experiment Station near Syracuse, New York. The effects of competition reduction and two cover crops on Sweetgrass reestablishment success were examined. Sweetgrass was planted under four treatments: Sweetgrass alone; with existing, old-field vegetation; with a cover crop of Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa); and with a cover crop of Annual (Italian) ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum). The experiment consisted of five replicates of the four treatments at both LaFayette and Kanatsiohareke. Sweetgrass biomass, height, reproduction rate, and survivorship were greatest in plots that were weeded to eliminate competition and in plots with Hairy vetch as a cover crop. A cover crop of Annual ryegrass resulted in reduced Sweetgrass growth and reproduction. The results of this field experiment indicate that there is great restoration potential for Sweetgrass because it is easily transplanted and reproduces vigorously. For 2.25-m2 plots, Hairy vetch is an effective cover crop for Sweetgrass. Planting the Sweetgrass with Hairy vetch generated properties of the grass that are desired by basketmakers, such as abundance and tall blades. This technique also allowed for a relatively non–labor intensive method of cultivation. Reestablishment of Sweetgrass offers the members and visitors of Kanatsiohareke the means to continue to use the plant, strengthen traditional practices associated with Sweetgrass, and benefit economically by selling baskets and medicine made with Sweetgrass.