July 31, 2008
click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney
Now, I could tell you all about that silly thing attached to the butt of my Kitty, but actually I know very little about cat tails that grow in marshy areas, so I had to do a bit of checking with Wikipedia:
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The most widespread species of cat tails is Typha latifolia, extending across the entire temperate Northern Hemisphere. Typha plants grow along lake margins and in marshes, often in dense colonies, and are sometimes considered a weed in managed wetlands. The plant's root systems help prevent erosion, and the plants themselves are often home to many insects, birds and amphibians.
Edible uses: Cattail has a wide variety of parts that are edible to humans. The rhizomes are a pleasant, nutritious and energy-rich food source, generally harvested from late Fall to early Spring. These are starchy, but also fibrous, so the starch must be scraped or sucked from the tough fibers. In addition to the rhizomes, cattails have little-known, underground, lateral stems that are quite tasty.
In late spring, the bases of the leaves, while they are young and tender, can be eaten raw or cooked. As the flower spike is developing in early summer, it can be broken off and eaten, and in mid-summer, once the flowers are mature, the pollen can be collected and used as a flour supplement or thickener.
Typha seeds are very small, embedded in down parachutes, and very effectively wind-dispersed.
The disintegrating heads are used by some birds to line their nests. The downy material was also used by Native Americans as tinder for starting fires.
Native American tribes also used cattail down to line moccasins and papoose boards. An Indian name for cattail meant, “fruit for papoose’s bed”. Today some people still use cattail down to stuff clothing items and pillows. The down has also been used to fill life vests in the same manner as kapok. If using the cattail for pillow stuffing you may be wise to use thick batting material, as the fluff may cause a reaction similar to hives and will be very itchy.
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So there you have it -- but personally I think I'll skip them as food, and I probably won't be lining my moccasins or papoose with them, or stuffing my pillow with them either... I found these handsome cat tails on the banks of Phoenix Lake, behind the tiny town of Ross, in Marin County, California... See you there...
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