Many years ago, in the heat of summer, little girls sat in the shade of cottonwood trees and made tipis from the leaves.
These they made in numbers and placed them in circles like the camp circle of their tribe.
“A circle of cottonwood-leaf toy tipis made by Indian children of Plains tribes” (Gilmore 1919).
|Lanceleaf cottonwood, Populus x acuminata.|
A Plains cottonwood. I ate lunch in its shade every day during a grassland project.
It was the Plains cottonwood – Wága chan of the Dakota – that supplied leaves for toy tipis. In early October, I collected leaves from the Plains cottonwood in my yard, and spines from the matrimony vine (Lycium barbarum) to make my own, following the story carefully.
They split a leaf a short distance down from the tip along the midrib; at equal distances from the tip they tore across from the margin slightly; then, bending back the margin above the rents for the smoke flaps, and drawing together the leaf-margins below the rents and fastening them with a splinter or a thorn, they had a toy tipi.
Smoke flaps regulate draft and ventilate the tipi, especially smoke from the fire.
These [I] made in numbers and placed them in circles like the camp circle of [a] tribe.
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Lanceleaf cottonwoods may not be good for leaf tipis, but like all cottonwoods, they do have stars inside. The story of the cottonwood star comes from rural Nebraska, by way of Kathleen Cain (2007). Her father once asked her “Have you ever seen the cottonwood star?” She hadn’t.
He turned the twig so I could gaze directly into its center. Running crosswise through the middle of the small piece of wood, the cut revealed a reddish-brown and nearly perfect five-pointed star.
You have to find one with a sturdy knuckle ... You have to cut cleanly ... No hacking. Not jagged. One cut is best.
A Pex tube cutter worked well.
A sturdy knuckle.
A macro lens revealed the cottonwood star nicely. It’s only 6 mm across.
The path of the hidden star stretches out into the future of every cottonwood branch.
Cain, K. 2007. The cottonwood tree; an American champion. Boulder, CO: Johnson Books.
Gilmore, M.R. 1919. Use of plants by the Indians of the Missouri River region. Bureau of American Ethnology.
This post is part of this month's gathering of tree-followers kindly hosted by Lucy.