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Thursday, December 17, 2015

On 12:02 PM by Rachel Preston Prinz in ,
I have always been interested in the way that indigenous people solved architectural problems. Here are just a few ways that native New Mexicans used plants and trees, as well as general good design practices, in the design of their buildings.

Design Techniques 

Pithouses 1100AD
Pithouses were relatively easy to build, plus they are thermally more efficient in our cooler climate than houses built above ground, since they had only the roof exposed to the weather. Pithouses were built in small family groups rather than large community groups like Pueblos because they required minimal upkeep, as these people were gatherers and farmers rather than communities. The Anasazi (Pre-Puebloans) worked garden plots and wildcrafted. Often pithouses were built in the early years while crops were being established, and were replaced with above-ground structures once families expanded and food needed to be stored.

Rainwater Collection
Rainwater collection was essential. Chaco had a sophisticated water canal and agriculture system. Stone check dams collected storm runoff for later use on other Pueblos. Stone-lined reservoirs were used for water storage. Rock terrace gardens were used on slopes and rock waffle gardens were used in the flats. The people integrated these places into their stories.

Plants used in Indigenous Architecture in New Mexico

Timber wood
Straight, unbranched trunks of Ponderosa Pine, Douglas-fir, and Cottonwood were used for roof beams, support beams, and for thatching.

Gnarly Pinon and Junipers, as well as Oak, Mountain Mahogany, and Four Wing Saltbush have been used for lighter roof framing, wood lath (latillas) and closure for roof undersides.

In Taos, Pine and Aspen are the preferred latilla today.

These timbers were hewn with stone axes and reused regularly. Once the Spanish came with their tools and livestock, the harvesting occurred more quickly.


Ponderosa Pine
One of the largest native evergreens in New Mexico, the straight-grained wood of the Ponderosa Pine is used for ladders, vigas, and cradle boards.

Piñon
 A combination of old and new resin is mixed to create a red paint.
Boiling piñon gum makes an aqua-turquoise paint.
Warming piñon pitch makes an all-purpose glue used for gluing turquoise in place among other uses.
Piñon gum was used to keep rawhide leather pliant.

Juniper
Widely used in construction. Also burned in homes for pest fumigation. Soft bark used for mats.

Gambrel oak
Used for tools, ceilings, wood details.

Coyote Willow
Straight limbs, sometimes with leaves attached, have been used at various Pueblos for thatching roofs, for the tops of storage bins, and for corn-drying racks.

Cottonwood
Indicator species for high groundwater
Used for digging sticks.
Favorite wood for firing pots at some Pueblos.

Common Reed 
Most commonly used as closure for roof underside and for insulation.

Globe Mallow
Boiled mallow is added to gypsum as a glue for house paint at Santo Domingo. At Taos, they mix the pulp with earth for very hard floors.

Apache Plume
Used for making outdoor brooms, as well as brooms used for spiritual protection when stored behind ovens at Sandia. Roots are used for cording for fencing and ramadas (shade structures).

Yucca
Used for storage baskets and blankets. Woven with turkey feathers or rabbit fur for warmth. These might be used for clothing as well as sleep.
Yucca also used for tiny paintbrushes for pottery making.

Rocky Mountain Bee Plant
Boiling the leafy stems makes a black paint. Acoma potters are especially known for the use of this paint.

Tansy Mustard
Same as Rocky mountain bee plant.
Also, an indicator species that likes the heavy soils caused by adobe and earth plaster weathering. (This plant tells you where ruins may be.)

Lichens
plus piñon resin makes yellow paint.

Cattails
Used for woven sleeping mats (sometimes along with yucca in the same mat), and a lath over roof vigas to support mud adobe roof covering.

Four wing saltbush
An indicator plant for ruins, as it flourishes at disturbed sites. It is also used whole to caulk or cover the roofs of buildings.

Jimson weed/ datura
A ruin indicator as it grows on disturbed sites.

Little bluestem & side oats grama
Used for broom making, and at Zuni for making mats to close door openings.

Cholla cactus
Used live for fencing and food for 600+ years at Jemez Pueblo. The skeletal remnants of dead plants are used for stockade fencing.

Sagebrush
Indicator of deep, fertile soils



This is just a start. I'll add more as I get my research typed. ; )
More info on many of these plants, and many, many more... is available in the book:
Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province: Exploring Ancient and Enduring Uses by William W Dunmire and Gail D Tierney