The Role of Plants in the Order of Life

The story of “The Year the Roses Died” embodies the teaching of the place of plants in our world.


| December 2015



Tree roots

Covering a wide range of plants, from conifers to cattails to medicinal uses of yarrow, mullein, and dandelion, Geniusz explains how we can work with those beings to create food, simple medicines, and practical botanical tools.

Photo by Fotolia/Sondem

Mary Siisip Geniusz has spent more than thirty years working with, living with, and using the Anishinaabe teachings, recipes, and botanical information she shares in Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

Geniusz teaches the ways she was taught—through stories. Sharing the traditional stories she learned at Keewaydinoquay’s side as well as stories from other American Indian traditions and her own experiences, Geniusz brings the plants to life with narratives that explain their uses, meaning, and history.

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“The Year the Roses Died”

Gichi-mewinzha gii-oshki-niiging akiing, a very long time ago, when the earth was new, there was a horrible year that was remembered as “The Year the Roses Died.” In that long-ago time a large number of animals depended on the roses for their food. But that spring there were no roses, not on the wide prairie, not in the mountain meadows nor in the most hidden forest glade. The roses were gone. When the animals realized the roses were really not going to grow that spring, there was a great outcry and a call for a council meeting to determine what had happened and, most important, “who did it?”

The waawaashkeshiwag, the deer, lowering their antlered heads with great dignity, said that they knew it was the bineshiinyag, the little birds, who were responsible, because they had seen them eating the flowers.

The bineshiinyag flew to a branch in the middle of the clearing and chirped, “We may have eaten a few flowers, but it was really the aamoog, the bees, who were responsible, because they ate the pollen.”