Summary of basket rush and its traditional use

Kumeyaay name: kwa'naay

Basket Rush (Juncus textilis)


Basket rush is a grassy, perennial herb that grows along the coast in the coastal mountain range in southern California. The stems of this grass are cylindrical and grow up to 3-6 feet in height. A long cluster of greenish-brown flowers emerges from this rush and produces small brown fuits.

Basket rush has been used to weave baskets by many different Native American groups in southern California. The Chumash have used basket rush for many centuries. The Kumeyaay produce beautiful baskets and other containers from this plant. They dry the stems, split the stems then wrap and weave this material together to produce a coiled basket. These Kumeyaay baskets are an important component of ceremonies to mourn the loss of loved ones.

Various indigenous groups in southern California (Luiseno, Chumash, Luiseno) used a creative technique to achieve a black color on these ceremonial Juncus baskets. These early artisans would steep the plant material in an infusion of either horned sea-blite or bush seepweed. The dark pigments from these plants can penetrate deeply into the basket making material.