Distribution of tribes called Chichimeca
, ca. 1550
The Chichimeca, an umbrella term for several tribes used by the Nahua people, were hunter-gatherers in Aridoamerica grasslands. They gathered magueys, yucca flowers, mesquite beans, chia seeds, and cacti, including the paddles of fruits of nopal cactus. The century plant (Agave americana) is a particularly important resource in the region.
Despite dry conditions, Aridoamerica boasts the greatest diversity of wild and domesticated tepary beans (Phaseolus acutifolius) and is a possible site of their domestication. Maize cultivation reached Aridoamerica by about 2100 BCE. Archaeologists disagree whether the plant was introduced by Uto-Aztecan migrants from Mesoamerica or spread either northward or southward from other groups by cultural borrowing.
In Baja California, fishing and hunting provided food, as did harvesting acorns, nopal, pine nuts, and other native plants.
Historically, people of Aridoamerica coppiced willows, that is, tree trunks were cut to a stump to encourage the growth of slender shoots. These willow shoots were woven tightly to produce waterproof, cooking baskets. Fire-heated rocks were plunged into a gruel in the baskets to cook.