The Three Sisters and Co-Planting


When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts and settled Pilmoth, they entered the territory of the indigenous peoples who had lived there for centuries, the Wampanoag. Although their relationship with the Pilgrims wasn’t always amicable, the Wampanoag people taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate three important New World plants: corn, beans, and squash.¬†Learning about the relationship among these different plants can help students understand agriculture and nutrition.

Many Native American tribes used companion planting techniques to raise these three crops together. Although each crop could grow on its own, growing them together provides better results.


Corn needs a lot of nitrogen to grow tall, strong stalks and produce large ears of corn. Often there isn’t enough nitrogen in the soil to provide the necessary nutrients for the plants. Corn also loves the sun and provides shade.


Legumes put a lot of nitrogen into the soil while they’re growing but they need something to grow up on. Often, farmers use bean poles to train beans on to grow.


Squash plants have very deep roots and can access water further down than other plants. With their wide leaves, they shade the ground and prevent sun-loving weeds from growing. Their stalks also have hairy spines that insects avoid. They are designed to protect the plant.

Lesson Activity

  1. Show pictures of the different features of the three plants to students and explain the special characteristics of each type of plant.
  2. Explain what a symbiotic relationship is to students.
  3. Ask students how they think the plants can benefit one another. Guide students towards ideas of a companionship planting of the three plants.
  4. Tell students the myth of the three sisters. Explain to students that this is a myth and ask questions about reality and imaginary.


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