Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fire and Cranberries

     "Small cranberry is one of the first colonizers of burned bogs and increases in abundance with repeated fires if the fires are not too severe (Flinn and Wein 1977; Vogl 1964; Matthews 1992). It also regenerates vegetatively by re-growing from rhizomes and by layering (Flinn and Wein 1988; Matthews 1992).

     Reports of such large quantities suggest the possibility of Indian stewardship to increase fruit yields. Lightning is rare within the Pacific northwestern distribution of small cranberries (Agee 1993; Kay 2007; Vitt et al. 1990), and tribes maintained them by burning (Anderson 2009; Latham 2008). The primary role of fire was to keep open habitats for the small cranberries and other useful plants. Burning arrested the processes of succession that would otherwise have allowed the forest to advance, which would have reduced sunlight to the fruit-bearing plants, increased competition for nutrients, and made the plants more difficult to get to and harvest. Gregory Colfax, Makah, explains this function of burning in relation to small cranberries: “My dad [Lloyd Colfax] mentioned that the [Ts’ooyuhs] prairie was burned yearly or whenever it was necessary. When the cranberry bogs would get so overgrown then the folks knew that it was time to do it. And so it was generally in autumn I think when it happened—just at the time when you had your long spells of light summer weather in September and October. And it was the perfect time to do it because you match it to the wind and you match it to upcoming rains” (pers. comm.).

     Indian burning of bogs also had a directly beneficial effect on individual cranberry plants, maintaining vigor and stimulating the production of berries. Without pruning or burning, the vines produce many runners, and produce less and less fruit. Traditionally tribes in western Washington, such as the Quinault and the Makah, burned off bogs periodically not only to keep them open by eliminating encroaching shrubs and trees but also to stimulate the plants to produce more fruit (Anderson 2009). This probably would have a similar effect to the pruning of the cultivated cranberry practiced by growers today. They prune heavily vined cranberries for two reasons: 1) severing most of the runners removes apical dominance in many of the vines, promoting new uprights to produce fruit in the second year after pruning; and 2) removing top growth allows more sunlight to reach the vines, encouraging increased flower bud initiation (Eck 1990). Paul Eck (1990) instructs cranberry growers to burn or mow overgrown bogs during the dormant season to bring them back into productive bearing..."

Above: area with a great deal of possible Indigenous Stonework, possibly related to the Indigenous management of Cranberry Swamp that surrounds Cranberry Pond, some controlling perhaps the flow of water into the bog...

This post relates to some questions I posed (mostly to myself, I guess, since no one commented) here:

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