Native Plants of the Tiguex Province

Kuaua Pueblo was just one of many Tiwa-speaking villages constructed along this stretch of the Rio Grande Valley—from Algodones to Isleta. Coronado named the area occupied by these Tiwa-speaking villages Tiguex Province (pronounced “TEE wesh”).

The Tiwas were farmers who grew abundant supplies of corn, beans and squash. Nevertheless, continuing age-old traditions, they also gathered the seeds, leaves and/or roots of various native plants. Their knowledge of native flora was incredibly extensive. Pueblo men and women were able (and often still are able) to identify hundreds, if not thousands, of plant species—distinguishing those that could be used for food from those that could be used for medicines or dyes or construction material.

The following is a brief list of some of the more common native plants that you may encounter during your visit to Coronado Historic Site.

Beargrass / Sacahuista

(Nolina microcarpa)

With its long narrow leaves and dense cluster of white flowers on a tall stalk, this plant bears some resemblance to a yucca. Both belong to the Lilly family. However, beargrass flowers are tiny compared to yuccas; its seeds are round—less than a quarter-inch in diameter. Beargrass was formerly the preferred basket material for many southern Rio Grande Pueblos. The seeds can be ground for flour (Isleta), and its root can be boiled for a tea that eases the symptoms of rheumatism.

 Broom DaleA / Hiniesta de indigo

(Psorothamnus scoparius Gray)

Broom Dalea prefers sandy soils and is extremely drought resistant. Its small blue flowers, which appear in July and August, are highly fragrant and can be used to season stews or salads. The roots of related plants are sometimes chewed as a sweet. This plant is widely employed as an ornamental and seeds can be purchased at the Native Plants Nursery at nearby Santa Ana Pueblo.

 Buffalo Gourd / Cucurbita

(Cucurbita foetidissima)

This perennial vine has large triangular leaves and bright yellow flowers (June through August). The flowers mature into softball-sized gourds that resemble tiny watermelons. When the vine shrivels and dies it leaves bleached gourds on the ground. The flowers can be eaten, and gourds were sometimes ground and burned as a form of insect repellent.

 Cota / GreenThread              

(Thelesperma megapotamicum)

The rayless flower heads of cota are perched a top long, slender, leafless stems. This is a perennial herb; most of the leaves grow in rosettes near the base of the plant. The leaves are smooth and aromatic. Usually gathered in the summer, cota is an important source of medicinal teas and a dye plant.

COYOTE Willow / Sauceda

(Salix exigua)

Coyote willow (also called sandbar or narrowleaf willow) grows abundantly along the banks of Rio Grande. You will always find it at river’s edge, in areas that are over flown during spring flood. The bark is dark brown, tinged with red—hence, some Tiwa-speaking people still refer to themselves at the “Red Willow” people (Taos). Strong and pliable, willow is excellent raw material for making ring baskets (a form of wicker).

FourWing SaltBush / cenizo

(Atriplex canescens)

Saltbush is a woody shrub that grows up to six feet high. During droughts, it often turns brown and appears to die; but a single rain brings it bursting back to life with a new crop of grey-green leaves. In late summer, tiny yellow flowers on female plants mature into highly visible seeds with four bracts or “wings.” Though of little nutrient value, these seeds were gathered during famines, ground into flour and eaten in order to stave off hunger. Ground seed was sometimes used as an ingredient in pinole—a traditional Mexican beverage.

Hedgehog Cactus/ cacto

(Enchinocereus coccineus Engelm.)

Hedgehog cactus are low-growing cylindrical cacti with conspicuous ribs. They usually grow in small clusters, producing scarlet blossoms in the spring and summer. It is rare, but can be found in a few spots along the Tiwa Trail.

 Horsenettle / Ortiga de caballo

(Solanum elaeagnifolium)

Horsenettle is a noxious weed, harmful to livestock and dangerous to sandal-wearing humans. Its bluish-purple flowers mature into small, round yellow fruit. These fruit, dried and ground into powder, are a substitute for rennet and sometimes used to make cheese.

Indian RiceGrass

(Achnatherum hymenoides)

Ricegrass is a medium tall perennial bunch grass that grows on sandy and rocky soils across the Southwest. It produces a grain that is both large and highly nutritious, which once made it an important food source for Ancient Pueblo people. Ricegrass begins to mature in late June in Tiguex Province.

Oneseed Juniper / Enebro

(Juniperus monosperma)

The modern name for our abandoned Pueblo ruin is Kuaua (pronounced: Kwah’ wah). This word means ‘evergreen’ in the Tiwa language. The most common evergreens found on-site today, as in the past, are oneseed junipers. Juniper was used for cooking and construction. Juniper berries were eaten. Ash from juniper wood was used to make lye water, which in turn was used to make posolé or hominy stew. Juniper boughs are highly fragrant.

PiÑon / two-needle Pine

(Pinus edulis)

Piñon, the state tree of New Mexico, grows up to 35 feet tall, and is easily distinguished from juniper by its pine needles and pinecones. The needles are short and always paired. Open cones look like wooden cactus flowers. Piñons are the source of a commercially important crop (piñones), worth millions of dollars annually. Piñon is also used for building and for firewood.

PricklyPear Cactus / nopal

(Opuntia polyacantha)

Pricklypear is characterized by a series of flat, beaver-tail shaped fleshy pads. Ours have yellow flowers in late spring and early summer, which develop into large edible fruits called tunas. With the spines carefully removed, pads or nopals are also edible. The principal use of this cactus was as winter food, but also the source of an important red dye (derived from the cochineal bugs).

RabbitBrush / chamisa

(Ericameria nauseous)

Chamisa produces brilliant clusters of yellow flowers in the fall. It grows up to four feet tall and has fairly straight, woody stems. Today, it is commonly used for windbreaks and as an ornamental shrub. In the past, it was used to make yellow, green and black dyes. The stems were also used to make poisonous war arrows that broke on impact and could not be shot back (Zuni).

 Rio grande Cottonwood / Alamo

(Populus deltoides wizlizenii)

Cottonwoods reproduce dioeciously, which means that male and female flowers on found on separate trees. Male trees produce reddish catkins (or string of flowers) that pollinate the greenish catkins on female trees. The latter matures into a drooping series of seedpods, which eventually burst open and release “cotton” (in Spanish, algodones). These are the seeds of the next generation of cottonwoods, floating on slender white fibers. Cottonwoods grow up to 100 feet tall, but only near an abundant source of water. A grove of cottonwoods growing along the Rio Grande is called a bosque—which means ‘woods’ in Spanish. Soft and easily carved, cottonwood was the preferred material for making certain religious articles used in Pueblo ceremonies.

 Sand SagebrusH /Artemisa de arena

(Artemisia filifolia)

Sand Sagebrush grows up to three feet tall and has gray threadlike leaves. It is highly aromatic due to the concentration of oils—including camphor—found in its foliage. The principal use of sagebrush was medicinal.


(Phacielia corrugata)

Scorpionweed is so-called because its very distinctive flower heads remind some observers of a curled scorpion’s tail. The flowers are purplish. This plant prefers the disturbed soils nearer the building and blooms from May to September.

Soaptree Yucca / Yuca de izote

(Yucca elata)

A slender-leafed yucca with a definite trunk six to fifteen-feet tall. The yucca is the state flower of New Mexico. In the spring it sends up a tall stalk, with white flowers clustered at the top. High in saponins, yucca root is a good source of soap and shampoo. Yucca leaves could be used to make rope, shoes and baskets.

 skunkbush / threeleaf sumac

(Rhus trilobata)

A rounded shrub that grows up to six feet high. Small yellow flowers appear in clusters along the branchlets in early spring, before leaves appear. Leaves are in threes and each leaflet is toothed. The berry-like fruit is less than a half-inch in diameter, orange to red in color. Also known as lemonade bush, when crushed the berry tastes like lemons. It was used to season stews and beverages.

Tree Cholla

(Cylindropuntia imbricata)

Tree chollla is a type of cactus. It grows up to eight feet high. It has spiny cylindrical joints and stems—no leaves. Its trunk is short and soon branches and re-branches into candelabra-like profusions. Red purple blossoms appear in late spring and early summer and mature into dry, yellow, lumpy fruits. Like it near relative prickly pear, nearly the entire plant can be eaten once the sharp spines are removed. But cholla was only eaten during famines. Despite the spines, several birds—including curved-bill thrashers—commonly build their nests in this cactus.

WOlfberry / Tomatilla

(Lycium pallidum)

A spiny, “scraggly” shrub, growing up to three feet tall. This plant blooms inconspicuously in early to mid-May; the flowers are about 1”-long, creamy green, and funnel-shaped. These mature into small red berries, each resembling a miniature tomato. These berries are edible and were made into a sort of jam.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s