Lydia Vassar splits juncus

Last night we presented the first in a series of three ethnobotany events at California State University San Marcos. Lydia Vassar, a Luiseño basketweaver and basketweaving teacher at the Pechanga Chámmakilawish School on the Pechanga Reservation, spoke about her uses of native plants. Lydia is one of the most adventurous souls I’ve ever met. In many of my photographs, Lydia’s got something in her mouth: she’s either splitting juncus into three strands for her baskets, or gnawing on agave leaves that have been pit roasted overnight after harvesting in the desert, or tentatively tasting what we think are the closely-guarded-with-thorns desert apricot.

Last night she spoke of how basketweavers need three hands, and that the third hand, of course , is the mouth. She also spoke how dangerous this can be for basketweavers, because often they unknowingly gather plants from areas that have been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.

diania caudell harvests deergrass

Diania Caudell,  a Luiseño basketweaver and another collaborator on the our Ethnobotany Project, attended the presentation and also spoke about this pressing issue. Diania sits on the Executive Council for the Tribal Pesticides Program Council and works with local, state, and federal agencies on the uses of pesticides and other toxic chemicals which impact native plants used for basketry and other cultural traditions. In the photograph above, Diania is gathering deergrass, Muhlenbergia rigens, used as the foundation for her baskets.

Please see the poster below for more information on upcoming Ethnobotany Events at CSUSM next week.

Posted by deborah small


  1. As a volunteer for habitat restoration this is good to know. Thank you.



  2. These are such beautiful pictures and wonderful information. Thank you for sharing this with the world.

    Michelle Hoaglin
    Executive Director



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 )

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