The superplant: cattails

Since I’m camera-less at the moment, I’m  using a few images from my recent winter walk at Anne Lee Pond.  Even during the winter the cattails lined the edges of the pond, making it easy to see exactly where the waterline (and ice) was despite the snow coating everything. 

I’ve always loved cattails.  As a kid, the fluffy seed heads are irresistible – like a giant dandelion just waiting to be fluffed into the wind.  The plants themselves are visually interesting: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a water plant that grows as high as the cattail.  They’re the super wetland plant, popping up in drainage ditches, seasonal puddles, and every marshy area you see.  Plain and simple, they’re cool. 

I didn’t realize just how useful they were until I did a little cursory research.  I already knew that the starchy roots could be easily eaten and that the fluff had quite a few uses ranging from lining bird nests to moccasins. 

Did you know the cattail can be eaten in just about any stage of growth?  The leaves make great thatching, baskets, and mats, and the young leaves produce a kind of jelly that’s a natural pain reliever.  The pollen (lots of it) can be used as flour. 

It’s a great plant to deal with soil erosion, and wildlife flourish in the rhizomatous roots (they spread quickly by branching roots underground and producing new plants.)  Fish shelter and lay their eggs in the shallow water that the plants love, and waterfowl make nests in the stands of plants.  Cattails are truly a handy plant to have around.

If you love to photograph bugs, cattails are a good place to start looking.  During the summer at Anne Lee Pond I lurked beside the cattail stands at the edge of the lake and stalked dragonflies with my camera.  Butterflies paid them a few visits as well, along with a few less desirable insects that like to bite.  I do have a childhood memory of a rather nasty type of caterpillar that loved cattails – I’ve only ever seen it in on the broad, blade-like leaves of the cattail, and it stung like a bee.  Ouch.


2 thoughts on “The superplant: cattails

  1. Thanks for publishing this. Aggressively exploited, cattails have the potential to push famine back into the history books. Uncontrolled, they are the driving force in desertification in Africa and Asia. There is a hazard in their exploitation for food: The plant has a janitor in its soul, and aggressively collects toxic chemicals. What isn’t fit for human consumption is great feedstock for biofuels. The huge infestation in Lake Chad could feed and fuel all of Africa. Instead, it drives the expansion of the Sahara, provides breeding grounds for pests like mosquitoes and Quelea birds, and causes flooding.

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