Significant Trees of the Eastern Cherokee

New education module introduces Cherokee youth to culturally important trees and their management

a display of some module contents: cards, handouts, coloring sheets
The module was jointly developed with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and includes significant input from Cherokee elders and artisans. Photo by John Schelhas, USFS.

A partnership between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station has led to the development of a new educational module for Cherokee youth. The module is centered on seven significant trees of the Eastern Cherokee and connects these trees to Cherokee culture and forest management.

The tree module was jointly developed by John Schelhas, SRS research forester, and Tommy Cabe, EBCI forest resource specialist, with significant input from Cherokee elders and artisans. This is the third module in a series. The first module focused on native plants and the second on weather and climate.

The tree module, Significant Trees of the Eastern Cherokee, was developed in 2018 for distribution to youth programs working on the Qualla Boundary—the lands held in trust for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a federally recognized tribe.

Seven culturally important trees were chosen for the module: white oak, hickory, black walnut, butternut, yellow buckeye, tulip poplar, and sourwood. Each tree has important cultural uses, both now and in the past.

White oak splits are used for basket-making, and some of them are dyed with black walnut or butternut to create patterns. Wood carvers use buckeye and black walnut to carve masks and other items. Hickory is used for ballsticks and in food preparation. And, traditionally, sourwood was used for arrows and pipe stems, and tulip poplar for canoes.

Materials in the module guide students in the identification of these seven trees. Information is provided on Cherokee uses in order to foster deeper interest in Cherokee culture. Silviculture and forest health information is also provided to stimulate interest in and generate understanding of natural resource management. The Cherokee names of the trees are also given, connecting students to the Cherokee Syllabary and pronunciation of Cherokee words.

Most importantly, the module includes a suite of interactive activities that can be done inside the classroom and outside in the forest.

A group gathers under a picnic shelter as the module is presented
The module was shared with a group of students from the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center during a visit to Cherokee, North Carolina. Photo by John Schelhas, USFS.

A teacher guide provides an overview of the module and details a number of activities. Vocabulary and tree identification materials are provided. Activities include scavenger hunts, tree identification exercises, and counting tree rings.
Tree information sheets for each tree provide information on identification, Cherokee uses, wildlife uses, natural resource management, threats to forest health, and links to additional resource materials.

A card matching game engages students in matching trees to their uses and reinforces identification, Cherokee language, and uses.

The module also includes sheets that can be photocopied and used in the classroom, including a crossword puzzle, two word searches targeted at different educational levels, and coloring sheets of individual trees, forests, and products derived from those trees by Cherokee people.

Youth participating in the educational program will gain an appreciation of different trees and the forests they are found in, the role of trees in Cherokee culture, and an introduction to the diverse issues engaged in by forest managers.

Access the module on the EBCI website.

For more information, email John Schelhas at

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