Simply The Best-November

The rattle of the cattails swaying in the breeze is calming.  ~Paul Gurrieri

 

I wasn’t sure which native plant I would highlight for my next installment of Simply The Best until I was watching the cattails turn into a mass of fluff this fall.  There is something magical about cattails that bring me back to my childhood and the creek in which I used to play.   What a perfect native plant to feature for the wonderful meme Dozen for DianaElephant’s Eye, and for Gail@Clay and Limestone’s equally wonderful Wildflower Wednesday.

One of the most beautiful sights in early spring is the greening of the stalks of the cattails or Typha latifolia part of the Cat-Tail Family (Typhaceae).  My cattails found their way into the pond long after the second year it was created.  There are cattails also on the edges of the meadow where there is a run-off ditch.  I expect the cattails in the pond were born on the wind or on the back of a frog or two.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to find cattails growing quickly in the pond as they are one of the first native plants to appear in newly wet muddy areas due to their very efficient seed dispersal.

Cattails usually grow in large colonies that resemble swaths of grass.   They mark the transition between land that is changing from a wet to dry.  Cattails occur in shallow freshwater wetlands, from sea level to 7,000 ft. where it is partly sunny to sunny. They can also grow in damp soil without standing water.  Cattails have the unique challenge of getting enough oxygen so this plant has evolved with its leaves containing large air vessels to transfer oxygen to the submerged roots.  Even the dead stalks are capable of getting oxygen to the roots.  Quite an adept plant.

Cattails are monoecious, which means that they have both male and female flowers appearing on the same plant. In early spring, the male flowers appear at the top of the plant with the female part just below.  The female flowers produce long hairs that catch and hold the pollen. After pollination occurs, the staminate part breaks apart, leaving behind the “cattail” or club-like spike.  Cattails bloom in summer to early fall.

Cattails can reach heights of six to twelve feet.  The sausage-like flowering spikes persist through autumn before becoming a mass of downy white fluff.  The seeds are very small, encased in down and wind-dispersed. Cattails can also survive in the soil for long periods with buried seeds. It germinates best with sunlight and changing temperatures. It also spreads by rhizomes once established.

Because cattails can be very aggressive, they often need some management.  Control is difficult, and it is best to let them grow where they can colonize and not cause a problem.  The most successful method for controlling cattails in the literature is by mowing or burning followed by prolonged flooding.  They are easiest to control in a small pond or container although they will take over the pond.  We pull them up, not getting the root, but still it is the only way to control them in our little pond.  We also cut off the cattail flowers once they begin to produce the fluffy seeds.

 

Origin

Typha is a genus with eleven species of monocotyledonous flowering plants (containing both the male and female flowers on one plant). They are largely found in the Northern Hemisphere in a variety of wetland habitats especially inland.  In the Great Lakes, Typha is said to be the most abundant wetland plant.   And different species of cattails, are adapted to different water depths.

The most widespread species is Typha latifolia, which is found in my area.  These cattails extend across the entire temperate northern hemisphere.  They have recently been introduced into fresh water in Australia where the water is shallow and dirty. The cattails filter the water catching items found floating or submerged.

Other Typha species include:  T. angustifolia  nearly as widespread, but does not extend as far north; some believe it was introduced and is invasive in North America; T. domingens is a more southerly and extends from the southern U.S. to South America; T. orientalis is found in eastern & northern Australia, temperate & tropical Asia and New Zealand; T. laxmanniiT. minima, and T. shuttleworthii are largely restricted to Asia and parts of southern Europe.

 

Name

Typha latifolia is also known as Broadleaf cattail, Common cattail, Broad-leaf cattail.  It is named for the Greek, tufh (typhe), meaning”bulrush, cattail”.  Latifolia, comes from the Latin latus,”broad”, and folius, “leaf”; “broad leaf”.

Typha has many common names. They may be known in Britain as bulrush, or reedmace, in America as cattailcatninetailpunks, or corn dog grass, in Australia as cumbungi or bulrush, and in New Zealand as raupoTypha though should not be confused with other plants known as bulrush, such as some sedges.

 

Uses

Typha has the most uses of any native plant I have researched so far.  Some I knew about, but many I had never heard of before.

Many people love to use the flowers in arrangements.  Cattails are great for wetland gardens and habitats such as a water garden, rain gardens and bog or pond areas. Cattails can also be used as an as a thick privacy screen if your property is bordered by wet areas.

Cattails are widely used by wildlife.  They provide nesting sites for red-winged blackbirds as I have seen in the meadow as well as for ducks, geese, other water fowl and fish. Birds use the fluffy seed heads to line their nests.  Muskrats and beavers enjoy the young shoots and many birds eat the seeds.
The rootstock is mostly starch and edible.   The young shoots can be eaten like asparagus, the young flower spikes can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob, and the sprouts at the tip of the roots can be used in salads or boiled like greens. Even the cattail pollen can also be used as a flour substitute in making bread.
During World War II, the water-repellent seeds were used by the U.S. Navy as substitute for kapok in life vests.  When mixed with ash and lime, the seeds are said to form cement that is harder than marble.

Typha flowers can be dipped in wax and then lit as a candle, the stem serving as a wick. It can also be lit without the use of wax as it will smolder slowly, like incense, and can repel insects.

Typha can be used as a starch to produce ethanol, instead of other grains. They have a great advantage because they do not require much maintenance to grow.

 

Folklore

Native people have used the Typha plant for many items throughout the northern hemisphere.  I find the historical uses are by far the most interesting.  Archeologists have found traces of Typha grains on grinding stones across Europe from 30,000 BC.  There were even mats made from cattails found dating back over 10,000 years old in Nevada that hadn’t decomposed.

There are written records about Typha in caves in Ohio dating to 800-1400 A.D.  References were also found dating back to the 1600’s as it was ground into meal by Native Americans and the early colonists.  Native Americans used  Typha  leaves to make toys, chair backing, baskets, seat pads, thatched roofs and sandals. The broad leaves were also used under a horse’s collar to prevent it from being injured.

Some Native American tribes used Typha down to start fires, line moccasins, for bedding, diapers, baby powder, and a lining papoose or cradle boards.  People still use Typha down to stuff clothing and pillows.  The stems of Typha produce an adhesive substance that some native people used as a caulk to seal leaks in their boats.  Additionally Typha was used in Native American religious ceremonies.

Medicinally the jelly found between Typha leaves was a treatment for sores, boils, burns, wounds, inflammation and pain.  The fuzzy down was applied to burns and to prevent chafing in babies. Young flower heads  and  infused roots were eaten to treat dysentery.

 

Language of Flowers

Cattails are said to mean Prosperity and Peacefulness.  I completely agree as the uses are abundant and the sight and sound of cattails on the wind bring a wonderful solace.

 

 Meditating at Water’s Edge
Here is Cedar Draw, widening into
lush shallows with bulrush and cat-tails
clicking in the wind, showy red-winged
blackbirds clinging to stalks high above
the waterline, and where snowy egrets
ply the mossy banks for frogs. The
only sound heard is the chittering of
birds and that warm summer breeze
softly moaning and sighing for you alone.
Warren Gossett

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Check out other posts in the series, Simply the Best:

 

October-Helianthus

September-Asclepias

August-Clethra alnifolia

July-Liatris spicata

June-Baptisia australis

May-Goat’s beard

April-Lupine

March-Trillium

February-Trout Lily

January-Hepatica

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Don’t forget that December 1st marks the next installment of Seasonal Celebrations/Garden Lessons Learned.  Click the link to learn more.  Beth@PlantPostings will be wrapping up this past season with lessons we have learned in our gardens, and I will be setting the stage for next season’s celebrations (winter up N and summer down S of the equator).

You do need to be a garden blogger to join in Season Celebrations.  Any blogger is welcome.  Write a poem, post your favorite pictures and prose that tells why you love this season.  What do you love to do in this upcoming season?  What holidays or rituals make it a wonderful season for you?  How does your garden grow and what favorite plants will be blooming?  I hope you will be joining us.  Just create a post and link in with both or one of us between December 1st and the 20th, and around the 21st we will reveal those lessons and celebrations.

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Next up on the blog:     Saturday is December 1st which brings us to the start of another Seasonal Celebrations meme.  I hope you will join me.  Next Monday will be time for another Gardens Eye Journal to see what happened here in the garden in November.

I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month on the , at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my current post now.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2012.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

58 thoughts on “Simply The Best-November

  1. Donna, a truly in depth profile of Typha. I first came across a form of this plant when we had our shop. Myra had a section where she sold and displayed dried flowerst Typha was one which stood out from the rest. I have tried it in our garden, no success, in fact I haven’t ever seen it growing in this area.

  2. I will have to give them more respect when I see them at the farm. I did not know they were so useful in so many ways. They grow in great stands and I have picked them for dried arrangement, but the seed heads have to be sprayed of they get everywhere. I always see the red winged blackbirds perching on them.

  3. When blog posts stack up in my inbox, I’m always sure to open yours.

    It must have been fun to spend the time researching cattails while they rustled in the coming winter breezes.

    Thank you for such an interesting post. My favorites were the folklore examples. That sense of continuity also lends itself to their prosperous and peaceful qualities.

    • I thought about introducing them to the clay rain garden near the gazebo to balance the not so Obedient plant that takes over there. I love your post and it is fun to learn about the cattail species around the world…thanks so much for sharing Diana!

  4. I never knew there was so much to know about cattails! We don’t have them here in our big pond, but I’ve always loved seeing them elsewhere. They look gorgeous in your pond, and give a beautiful vertical element to it.

  5. I love Cattails, too, Donna! We have tons of them up at the lake, and the massed foliage looks like a rainbow in the autumn–especially when the sun hits it just right. This is an excellent post with so much great information. Thanks!

  6. I hadn’t heard of cattails, but I have heard of bulrushes, and it reminds me of the story of baby moses. It was fascinating to learn about this plant’s long history and how useful it has been to so many generations of humans and wildlife all over the world. Thanks for another interesting comprehensive post, Donna.

    • You are very welcome Catmint and glad I could bring a bit of interesting info and history to you. Sometimes bulrushes and cattails are the same thing but not sure with Moses…

    • Well I would bet it is because the growers would not make as much money on subsidies here as they do with grains…too bad really as our ancient peoples knew better but we seem to not to want to learn the good things from history.

      There is still research going on to use them so maybe they will replace grains and build great habitats too.

  7. Wonderful post. I love cattails and have been meaning to try eating all their different parts since I went to a talk on foraging for food. I noticed that cattails immediately colonized a newly formed roadside ditch last summer and that this summer a whole colony was in place. I just wish they could out-colonize purple loosestrife, but they can’t.

    • It is sad Carolyn as the loosestrife is killing the cattails in the wetlands. Let me know if you decide to eat them…I am very curious about eating the flower or fruit like corn on the cob.

  8. Super-interesting and informative post Donna! I had no idea cattails had so many uses and I appreciate the information you shared on the animals that use it and the edible possibilities. Have you eaten Typha before in any of the suggested uses? The folklore was my favorite too!

  9. I love cattails and am happy to learn they have great wildlife value as well as human value. No pond here, but, I wonder if I can have luck growing them as Diana has in a wet swale. Happy WW and Diana’s Dozens. gail

  10. Hi Donna, i haven’t seen something like that here, but i see one looking like that in Borobudur, Indonesia. What we cal cattail is the red flower spike of Acalypha hispida, i am sure you know that plant too. This post is a very thorough discussion on this plant, so informative.

  11. When we were kids, Grampa kept the pond cleared for skating. One winter, my cousin and I decided to have a sword fight with cattails. Later, when we appeared at the kitchen door, our wool snowsuits covered in fluff, we took one look at Grammie and knew we were in big trouble. She gave us brooms and sent us back outside to sweep each other. I recall being out way past dark, and we never tried that again!

  12. Wow, that was so much that I didn’t know about cattails! I knew they were pretty, but I didn’t realize how many parts could be used. I’m so impressed with those 10,000 year old mats!

  13. I really like the cattails, Donna. How fortunate you are to have them growing in your garden. I have gone out and picked them out of ditches and sold them to florists in the past. They are very nice in fall bouquets. Merry Christmas to you! ~Beth

    • Alicia have you ever eaten them? I am hoping to try them this spring….yes I don’t think there is any more peaceful sight than the cattails swaying in the breeze.

  14. What an interesting post, Donna! I had no idea there were so many uses for cattails, let alone that they could be eaten. I have fond memories of cattails–as a young girl, I would see them growing in the low-lying areas of a couple of my dad’s fields where ponds would develop during rainy seasons. Dad always thought of them as weeds and a nuisance to his crops, but I thought they were pretty. I haven’t seen them growing in the wild as much recently–perhaps due to pesticides or maybe the drought we’ve had the past two years.

    • Rose I am so glad you enjoyed the post and what fond memories you have…little did your Dad know…they have been hard to find with drought, pesticides and invasive species that are taking over their habitat..

  15. I enjoy this series of posts. You would think that we would have cattails around here on the lake, but we don’t. We had them in Seaford, loved seeing the Red-winged Blackbirds on them. When the birds land, the reeds dip and sway from the weight, giving the bird a ride!

    • Oh Janet that is too bad…it is one of my favorite times when the red-winged blackbirds come back for their annual ride on the cattails…they just love to play on and around them. It is one of my favorite series to write.

  16. Wonderful post! Cattails are abundant around here, even in the city, and I’ve always loved them. When I was growing up, my Mum would keep cattail stalks as dried arrangements in the house. My parents have an indoor cat now, so all the floral arrangements are kept to a minimum!

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