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America the Bountiful

America the Bountiful

Wild Turkey - Click for larger image.

Wild turkey - Meleagris gallopavo

Wild turkeys were in serious decline a hundred years ago. Now, thanks to careful management and protection of their forest habitat, they range across nearly half of the United States.
(Click here for larger image.)

Many holiday foods enjoyed throughout North America started out as wild plants and animals. Archaeologists at this Museum have tracked down the indigenous ancestors of these foods and the routes they followed to our tables.

  • Spanish explorers brought back to Europe turkeys that had been domesticated in Mexico. Later, the colonists took these birds to North America, where they crossbred with their wild cousins to produce the domestic turkeys you eat today.
  • Indigenous people domesticated squash from wild gourds—acorn and summer squash in eastern North America, and pumpkins in Mexico.
  • Teosinte, wild ancestor of modern corn, originated in southern Mexico (where it still grows) and spread across the Americas.


Wild gourds, corn kernels and cobs
Ozark wild gourds
Cucurbita pepo ssp. ovifera var. ozarkana

Whitewater, Arkansas
These small brown gourds are modern specimens of the wild ancestor of acorn and summer squash.

Corn kernels and cobs
Zea mays ssp. mays

Tularosa Cave, New Mexico, A.D. 1000
Corn is a grass. But unlike most grasses, early corn like this could reproduce only if humans stripped the kernels (or seeds) from the cob and planted them.

To learn more about Science and Collections visit the following websites:

Department of Anthropology
Department of Systematic Biology Division of Botany
Department of Systematic Biology Division of Birds

Past Science News exhibits


"Science in the News" features Natural History issues in the news media and interesting objects from the Museum's collections. We will frequently introduce new issues that come from our research, collections, exhibits, and projects.