Native American Legends
The Primacy of Plants
An Ojibwa Legend
Roses were once the most numerous and brilliantly colored of all
the flowers. Such were their numbers and such were the variety and
richness of their shades that they were common. No one paid much
attention to them; their beauty went unnoticed, their glory unsung.
Even when their numbers declined and their colors faded, no one
appeared to care. Cycles of scarcity and plenty had occurred. There
was no cause for alarm. There is degeneration and regeneration.
Plenty always follows scarcity.
But year after year roses became fewer in number. As the numbers
and richness of the flowers diminished, the fatness of the rabbits
increased. Only the bear, and the bee, and the hummingbird were
aware that something was wrong.
The Anishnabeg felt that something was not quite right but they
couldn't explain it. They only knew that the bear was thinner and
that the bear's flesh was less sweet than formerly. The bears found
smaller quantities of honey and what they found was less delectable.
The bees and humming-birds found fewer roses. The Anishnabeg were
bewildered; the bears blamed the bees; the bees were alarmed. But
no one could do anything.
Eventually, one summer there were no roses. Bees hungered; humming-birds
grew thin; the bears raged. In later years, that summer was known
as the Summer of the Disappearance of the Rose. At last, everyone
was alarmed. In desperation, a great meeting was called. Everyone
There were many days of discussion before the meeting decided to
dispatch all the swift to search the world for a single rose; and,
if they found one, to bring it back. Months went by before a humming-bird
chanced to discover a solitary rose growing and clinging to a mountainside
in a far off land.
The humming-bird lifted the faint and pallid rose from its bed
and brought it back. On arrival, medicine men and women immediately
tended the rose and in a few days restored the rose to life. When
he was well enough the rose was able to give an account of the destruction
of the roses.
In a voice quivering with weakness, the rose said, "The rabbits
ate all the roses."
The assembly raised an angry uproar. At the word, the bears and
wolves and lynxes seized the rabbits by the ears and cuffed them
around. During the assault the rabbits' ears were stretched and
their mouths were split open. The outraged animals might have killed
all the rabbits that day had not the rose interceded on their behalf
saying, "Had you cared and watched us, we might have survived.
But you were unconcerned. Our destruction was partly your fault.
Leave the rabbits be."
Reluctantly the angry animals released the rabbits. While the rabbits
wounds eventually healed, they did not lose their scars which remained
as marks of their intemperance. Nor did the roses ever attain their
former brilliance or abundance. Instead the roses received from
Nanabush thorns to protect them from the avarice of the hungry and
Nanabush, in endowing the roses with thorns, warned the assembly,
"You can take the life of plants; but you cannot give them
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends