PRIMITIVE SEED-TESTING METHODS.
of testing the germination of seed corn were practiced by the Indian tribes.
On the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, corn was grown along the
borders of Red Lake. The locality is more or less densely wooded; hence, use
was made of moss in germinating seed previous to planting. A box was filled
with moss, and kernels of corn were placed in the moss. The whole as soaked
in water for a time and then set in a warm place until the kernels sprouted.
Dead kernels were discarded, and the sprouted kernels were planted. Other
tribes made willow baskets, filled them with kernels of corn, poured water
through the corn, and placed the baskets in a warm place to start
germination. Among the northern and western tribes, it seems to have been a
general custom to soak the kernels of corn previous to planting, the object
being to hasten the germination of the seed.
In connection with the soaking of the kernels, superstition played
a conspicuous part. The older women of the tribes placed various substances
in the water in which the corn was soaked. These substances were believed to
influence the behavior of the future plant in the field and to insure its
being free from plant diseases and other enemies. As an example of this
might be cited the use of the ground plum (Astragalus caryocarpus).
The ground plus is prolific, bearing many fruits, and it was the belief that
its use in this connection would insure prolific corn crops.
THE NETTLE SEED TESTER.
It may be a surprise to many to know that a
method of germination somewhat similar to our modern rag-doll seed
germinator was used by middle-western tribes. The material used in this
tester was the stem of the slender nettle (Urtica gracilis). It was
used in the following manner:
When the time for planting corn was at hand, quantities of the
nettle were gathered. They were piled in a sort of mat, and on this mat the
kernels were placed. The mat of nettles was then rolled up so that it made a
cylindrical bundle, with the corn kernels on the inside. The bundle was tied
around with strings cut from buffalo hide and then immersed in water. After
soaking for a day or two, the bundle of nettles was wrapped in a buffalo
skin or other covering and kept warm. In a few days, the kernels sprouted,
and when the sprouts were a quarter of an inch or more long they were
planted. Kernels not sprouting or showing swollen germs were not planted.
The slender nettle was used for this purpose because it was the
first plant to reach any considerable height by corn-planting time.
Furthermore, the fact that the plant was protected by stinging hairs, or
spines, gave the Indians the idea that corn germinated with it would be
protected from plant enemies during the growing season.