Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians begin plant gathering in Great Smoky Mountains National Park based on Traditional Ecological Knowledge

It is becoming increasingly important to consider culturally-significant plants and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in the management of federal lands, including National Parks. A multi-partner research collaboration with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has demonstrated that traditional harvesting techniques for the edible plant sochan enhances plant populations, supporting a new plant gathering agreement with the National Park Service. 

Green-headed coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), also known as sochanOn March 25th, 2019, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) signed a historic agreement with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, allowing community members to harvest the edible spring green, sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata), within the park.  The agreement is one of the first of its kind in the nation, and is supported by research demonstrating that traditionally harvesting the young leaves of sochan at moderate rates does not harm plants; instead it stimulates more vigorous growth and leads to increased flower and seed production. In order to communicate the traditional ecological knowledge and sustainability of plant gathering practices necessary for the agreement, the EBCI has been partnering with scientists, including Forest Service biologist Michelle Baumflek of the Southern Research Station. Dr. Baumflek conducted interviews with community members about sochan harvesting, contributed to the development and testing of a sochan monitoring protocol and to the identification of potential gathering sites within the park. A limited body of research exists on plant species important to Native American tribes. Therefore, research conducted in partnership with tribes on the multiple dimensions of harvesting sustainability is integral as federal agencies begin to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) into management decisions.  

Pictured: Green-headed coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), also known as sochan, is an important edible spring green for members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. A new agreement with Great Smoky Mountains National Park will allow permit-holding community members to harvest the plants. Photo by Stephanie Brundage, Courtesy of Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.


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External Partners/Collaborators: Dr. Joe-Ann McCoy; Tommy Cabe, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; Great Smoky Mountains National Park, National Park Service.

Contact: Michelle Baumflek, PhD, Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, michelle.baumflek@usda.gov.


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