Slash and Burn: The Native Garden Tenting

 The Awaswas used a variety of methods, including fire, to maintain the Santa Cruz landscape. Image courtesy of Molly Lautamo.

The Awaswas used a variety of methods, including fire, to maintain the Santa Cruz landscape. Image courtesy of Molly Lautamo.

The California coastal landscape has been managed in some way by people for thousands of years. In the Santa Cruz area, the native Awaswas people*, set fires to maintain and invigorate the coastal landscape. This form of land management successfully provided animal forage and a healthy crop of grasses and other plants important to the Awaswas’ diet. The Awaswas may have managed riparian plants along creeks local to Santa Cruz through periodic pruning and controlled burns. Willows, for example, might have been actively tended through a pruning process called coppicing with the intention of harvesting new shoots for basket making.

How and Why to Prune a Willow

Coppicing involves cutting back the branches of a shrub or tree to encourage new, vigorous growth. The plant is pruned back to its base during its dormant period, when the tree has lost all its leaves in winter. Much like when you heavily prune rose bushes, the willows grow back much healthier.

A recently coppiced tree, in this case an alder (Alnus glutinosa). Photo courtesy of Naturenet.

A recently coppiced tree, in this case an alder (Alnus glutinosa). Photo courtesy of Naturenet.

The same coppiced tree, showing regrowth after one year. Photo courtesy of

The same coppiced tree, showing regrowth after one year. Photo courtesy of Coppicing Cat James.

Coppicing also promotes the growth of long, straight, slender, and flexible branches – optimal for basket weaving. The pliable young branches of the willows growing along the edge of creeks may have been used for making baskets, fish traps, and the inner framework of Awaswas homes. The bark could also be stripped from the branches and braided into a strong rope. Local Rumsien (native tribe located on the south end of Monterey Bay around Castroville) basket maker Linda Yamane uses gray willow sticks for her baskets’ foundations.

Willow shoots were used by the Awaswas to make baskets. Photo courtesy of Molly Lautamo.

Willow shoots were used by the Awaswas to make baskets. Photo courtesy of Molly Lautamo.

Read the rest of the story here at Mobileranger.com to learn who the Awaswas people were and how controlled burns shaped the landscape.

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of a self-guided tour all about Pilkington Creek by the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and Mobile Ranger. You can download the free mobile app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond at www.mobileranger.com.

Like the Content? It’s by and © Mobile Ranger. Check out all our blogposts and our free mobile app with sixteen AppTours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond at www.mobileranger.com. Please like us on Facebook!


Julia Gaudinski


Leave a Comment