James R. Anderson’s dad’s Métis plant names

James R. Anderson, a noted botanical authority in British Columbia, was the son of fur-trade era Chinook Jargon authority Alexander Caulfield Anderson.

JR Anderson published an excellent but hard-to-find book, “Trees and Shrubs: Food, Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of British Columbia” (Victoria, BC: Charles Banfield, 1925).


Pseudotsuga douglasii, from page 18

The hand-drawn images in this book are wonderfully detailed, realistic and gorgeous.

The verbal information here is a source of joy as well. JR quotes fairly liberally from a manuscript of his dad’s that often mentions traditional Métis French and/or Chinuk Wawa names of BC plants.

That is, names from 2 “halfbreed” languages of British Columbia.

Those are worth listing for your benefit, with the disclaimer that the French spellings might be naïve:

  • poire ‘saskatoons a.k.a. serviceberry’ (pp. 74, 128-129, where JR also mentions the Métis stew rubbaboo [although the Rubba Boot Crawfish Co. in Louisiana makes me wonder if Cajuns have this word too!] which combines pemmican with “meal”, a delicacy he never much liked) (MFr for ‘pears’)
  • shot oolalie ‘evergreen blueberry’ (p. 99) (CW for ‘(lead) shot berry’)
  • soap oolalie ‘soapberry; brue‘ (pp. 105, 131) (CW for ‘soap berry’)
  • On page 125 JR gives synonyms for ‘camas’: le camas / lickomas, MFr adaptations of this originally Nez Perce, then CW word.
  • chou creux ‘cow parsnip’ (p. 127) (MFr for ‘hollow cabbage’, named for the stems)
  • queue de rat ‘rat-tail a.k.a. lovage’ (p. 127) named for the roots
  • JR notes of salmonberry (p. 129) that “The Chinooks call it “Yaniss.”” This is actually the Lower Chehalis Salish word yə́n̓s for edible ‘salmonberry shoots/sprouts’. I’ve not seen Lower Chehalis data from his dad Alexander Caulfield Anderson before, but ACA did spend a few years in SW Washington and that must be the source of this information.
  • Of related interest, JR mentions “oolhan-oil” on p. 129, i.e. eulachon/hooligan/etc., a word from Chinuk Wawa. He says his dad always added a syllable to it, thus oolhana; I think this could reflect actual experience among Lower Chehalis speakers if they were saying the word with their Salish “instrumental” suffix -n̓. This is the poisson à la brasse according to the Astorian, Gabriel Franchère (p. 136), French for ‘fathom fish’ because these little guys were strung on lengths of cordage.
  • Western larch (tamarack) “is esteemed a “bonne bouche” ” — p. 133 (MFr for ‘a good mouthful, a good snack’, etc.)
  • sawash waptoo ‘arrow-head’ (Sagittaria) is CW for ‘Native potato’; he compares it with what I think are Chinese water chestnuts on p. 134
  • crapaud vert ‘cactus, prickly pear’ (p. 135) (MFr for ‘green frog’)
  • les ecronelles / resinée ‘false Solomon’s seal’ (p. 139) (MFr, maybe a distinctive pronunciation of écornelle ‘cornflower a.k.a. bachelor’s button’, and *(fleur) résiné* ‘resin(ous) flower’)
  • l’herbe froide ‘fireweed’ (p. 145) (MFr ‘cool/cold weed’, maybe for the same reason English calls it ‘fireweed’ — this common plant grows where there was a burn that’s now died out)
  • prele ‘horse-tail’ (p. 149) (MFr prêle ‘horsetail plant’)

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