Plants names from Native American languages

What plant names come from Native American languages? I’m looking for common English names of plants, not the scientific names. The names do not have to be borrowed directly from Native languages but could come via Spanish, French, Portuguese or some other language. I’ve made a preliminary list, but am sure it’s no where near complete:

  • camas – a lily whose root was a staple food of many Northwest tribes [Nez Perce]
  • hickory – [Virginian Algonquian]
  • maize – [Taino] (Taino was spoken on the Caribbean islands, so several common crop plant names come from it via Spanish)
  • pecan – [Illinois]
  • potato – [Taino]
  • quinoa – [Quechua]
  • saguero – [Ópata]
  • salal – edible berry native to the Northwest; still eaten but also a common ornamental [Lower Chinook]
  • sego – another lily with an edible root; early Mormon settlers learned of its edibility from the natives, which saved them in years when their crops failed. Because of that, it’s the state flower of Utah [Southern Paiute]
  • squash – [Narragansett]
  • tobacco – [Taino]
  • tomato – [Nahuatl]
  • tule – a bullrush native to California [Nahuatl]
  • tupelo – tree native to the southeast US [Creek]
  • wapato – edible tuber that grows in shallow water; native to the Northwest where it was a staple of Native American diets [Chinook Jargon]

Besides these, there are several plant names that come from those of places or people, where the names of those are Native American:

  • habaero – Havana, Cuba
  • jalapeno – Xalapa (Jalapa), Mexico
  • lima beans – Lima, Peru
  • sequoia – Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee writing system.

So any additions to either list?

More Nahuatl:

  • chocolate
  • cocoa
  • chili
  • chipotle
  • avocado
  • jicama
  • tamale

And Taino:

  • maize
  • cassava
  • guava
  • potato

Mesquite - Nahuatl
Persimmon - Virginia Algonquian

Well, that was fast. Thanks, Terminus.

A few comments:

Chocolate and cocoa are not actually the name of the plant, although I expect they’re frequently used as such. The plant is actually called cacao, which also comes from Nahuatl, so that’s a good addition.

Chili is a collective name for a group of plants, each of which has its own name. So I’ll go with the individual names like jalapeno. Chipotle seems to be a name for jalapeno peppers when they’ve been dried. Avocado and jicama are good additions. Tamale is the name of a type of food that’s not a simple fruit or vegetable, so it’s out.

I already had maize and potato, but cassava and guava are good additions.

Thanks again.

And Bayaker slips more in when I’m posting. Those two are good.

Asimina triloba, the American pawpaw is a fruit I love. I think the Latin name (Asimina) is taken from a Native American language (?)

Asimina triloba is a scientific name, which I’m not interested in. However, my friends Merriam and Webster say pawpaw (also spelled papaw) is probably derived from papaya. Papaya, in turn, comes from an Indian language, although M-W don’t seem to know which one. So that’s two additions. Thanks.

@dtilque - My expertise is limited to a backyard gardener’s vocabulary:

Also consider Scuppernong grapes a type of muscadine grapes.
Also Yucca, and Peyote

If native Hawaiian Plant names are allowed, then the page will fill up soon.

Chiltepin - another type of chili pepper

Heck, just go down this list:

New World Crops

From Quechua:
cinchona tree (source of quinine)
pampas grass

From Taino:
maguey (another name in English for agave)

From Catawba:

From Nahuatl:
sapodilla tree (source of chicle)

From Tupi or related languages:
cashew and its English synonym acajou
cayenne (pepper)

From Algonquian languages:
chinkapin and its synonym chinquapin
first element of possum haw ( Ilex Decidua)
first element of opossum tree ( Liquidambar styraciflua)
first element of possum pine ( Pinus virginiana)
first element of possumwood ( Diospyros virginiana)
first element of possum oak ( Quercus nigra)
tamarack, tamarack larch, and tamarack pine (three different species)

From unknown Native American languages:

Plants that may be named after Native American tribes or place-names:
Modoc cypress
Nootka cypress and Nootka false-cypress (two names for the same species)
Pottawattami plum
Siskiyou cypress
Sitka alder, Sitka spruce, and Sitka cypress
Washoe pine

first element of skunk cabbage, skunk-weed, skunk-vine, skunk bush, skunk lily, and skunky monkeyflower
first element of moose elm, moose maple
poke, pokeweed, poke sallet

I love me some saskatoon berry pie. The name of the saskatoon berry (which can refer either to the shrub itself or to the edible fruit it bears) comes from the Cree misāskwatōmina.


hackmatack (another name for tamarack)

Taino or related:
mangrove (several species)

Tupi or related:
petunia (several species)


Unknown Native American language:
Libidibia coriaria goes by many different common names, most of them probably from Native American languages: divi-divi, cascalote, guaracabuya, guatapana, nacascol, and watapana.

Interesting … I thought Suzanne Collins coined this word to name her heroine.

Katniss is described in Northwest Passage (Kenneth Roberts book).

Already on your list:

  • Cassava
  • Manioc


  • Yuca (strong note: completely different than yucca) - Galibi Carib
  • Tapioca - Tupí via Portuguese, tapi’oka

Fun fact: these are all the same plant, just tapioca is the processed form if you count that.

Kinnikinnick is Algonquin for “smoking mixture” :face_with_raised_eyebrow:. Also known as Red Berry or Bear Berry in places.

I’m not sure if the name was slang for whatever people smoked or if it only referenced a certain plant.

Sarsparilla, I assume, though I can’t find what language it’s from.

From Spanish zarzaparrilla . The first element may ultimately derive from Basque; see Spanish zarza (“blackberry bush”) for more.

Squash and pumpkin are both from Massachusett (Algonquin). Squash has similar variants in other native languages.

I have squash in the OP, although from a related language. Pumpkin, according to my friends Merriam & Webster, actually goes back to Greek via Latin and French.

Thanks everyone for all the contributions. I’m not in the least surprised that bibliophage is producing the most additions.

Note that I’m not interested in things made from plants such as tapioca that someone suggested (succotash would also fall into this category). Furthermore names that are a compound of a Native-derived word or name plus another word are also not what I’m after. Those are not direct borrowings of a native name for a plant.