Cattails, Waterside Elegance
Tuesday, January 11
Besides the lily pad, or pond lily, perhaps the most common and easily recognizable water plant is the cattail. Most any kindergarten student can recognize the cattail, for practically any illustrated children’s book that is set by the water has pictures of cattails growing out of the lake, stream, or pond. The cattail is known for its single tall flowering stem, which is topped by a spike of male flowers, below this flower spike is an elongated, sausage shaped cluster of densely packed female flowers. The plant is easily pollinated by the wind, and the flowers form seeds which are wind sown by means of a downy fluff.
Besides being one of the most easily recognized water plants, the cattail is also one of the most useful, with archaeological evidence showing that the plant has been used by mankind for at least thirty thousand years. The stems and leaves of the plant are tough enough to be easily used for basket weaving, and even improvised cordage. Cattail fluff was once, and in some regions still is considered to be one of the best substances available as clothing insulation and pillow stuffing. The underground rhizomes are starchy and can be eaten raw, or cooked like potatoes, green female flower clusters can be boiled and eaten like corn-on-the-cob, new leaves are excellent greens, and even the pollen of the cattail can be used to thicken soups and stews or as a flour additive.
Besides the practical uses of the cattail, the plant is simple uniquely beautiful. This fact is not lost on those who have wetland landscaping projects, and the cattail is often the plant of choice due to its fast growth rate and innate hardiness. The newest trend in landscaping and horticulture is to use as many native plants as possible and leave the landscaped area as natural in appearance as possible, this has led to the cattail becoming an extremely sought after nursery plant.