The Three Sisters: Another Reason to Give Thanks

The story has been passed down through generations of Native American cultures:

There are three sister spirits who dwell among the fields and protect the crops.

Sister Corn, with hair of gold, stands tall as the guardian of the crop.

Sister Bean feeds the shallow roots of Sister Corn (beans draw nitrogen from the air into the soil), then reaches for the sun as she twines in a spiral up her sister’s sturdy stalk.

Sister Squash, the eldest of the three, stays close to the Earth, encircling her sisters protectively with her large, prickly leaves that shade the soil and hold in moisture. Planted together on a mound of Mother Earth’s nurturing soil, the sisters receive water from Father Sky, who arches above them.

Close-up of green corn still on stalk.

Beans growing in a Three Sisters garden.


The Iroquois called the Sisters “De-o-ha-ko,” which translates to “life support,” not only because the plants rely on each other as they grow, but also because, eaten together, they provide a healthy, life-sustaining diet for humans. Corn is rich in carbohydrates and amino acids, beans are rich in lysine (an amino acid that corn doesn’t supply), and squash seeds provide protein and vitamins essential for growth and development. “De-o-ha-ko” recognizes that humans are one and the same with the plants they eat.

Resolve to plant the Three Sisters in your vegetable garden in 2013…and Happy Thanksgiving!

©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and