Could Captain John Smith’s Mattoume Have Been Wild Rice?

LaRoche, Germain
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
An early English explorer of North America, Captain John Smith reported use of a wild food called mattoume by native inhabitants of Virginia. Botanical identification of mattoume has been a mystery. In an attempt to solve the mystery of which plant species Captain Smith observed, I compare the botanical descriptions of wild rice and several other possible species that were mentioned either in scholarly journals or in ethnobotanical literature as likely identifications of mattoume. It seems most likely that mattoume is maygrass, Phalaris caroliniana Walter, as the facts do not support an identification as wild rice.
ethnobotany, Smith, John, 1580-1631, Agrostis stolonifera, Arundinaria gigantea, Hordeum pusillum, Phalaris caroliniana, Phragmites australis, Secale cereale, Spartina alterniflora, Zizania aquatica, rye, wild rice, wild foods, American Indians, Virgina, literature reviews, geographical distribution, archaeology
LaRoche G. 2007. Could Captain John Smith’s mattoume have been wild rice? Ethnobotany Research & Applications 5:179-184.
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