Monday, April 14, 2014

OHC - Spring Cattail

Nature Study is a wonderfully fluid, ever growing wealth of knowledge to be had if you are care enough and are observant in your daily living.

 One of the areas in our nature study that I have wanted to tackle is a year-long study. For some reason {and this is my ordered, box ticking self coming to the fore here} I had it in my head that we had to start a year-long study at a certain time. As I looked over this months challenges I saw that one of the focus areas is the cattail. Barb has also used this as a year long study so I thought that it would be a great time to start our year-long study with this.

I printed out my notes and did my reading ready to embark on our study. Then we went out for our walk to 'begin' our study. Now this is where my first comment of the post comes in, because it dawned on me as we were looking at and discussing the cattails along the side of our local pond, that we have already started year-long studies on lots of things, Cattails or Reedmace as it is known here in England being one of them.

You see as we move through the year with our nature studies, observing and discussing many things that we see and find on our walks, we have began observations and forming connections without even being aware of it. In fact tracing it back we began this study at the end of last summer! Here's how our walk panned out last week...

We set out to observe the spring cattail... {incidentally, this plant is known as Reedmace (older British texts), Cattail (mainly in American English)  or Bulrush (British English), however the term 'bulrush' is not completely accurate as the true Bulrush is actually another species altogether, that being the Scirpus lacustris. Reedmace and Cattatil are of the Typha genus}

We found lots of lovely examples of what the Cattail looks like in spring. New green growth is coming up and last years growth is brown and dying back. 

The cattail flowers are no longer firm and brown as we observed in late last summer...

Cattail in August 2013
Instead the long stalks are dry and tired and the heads are fluffy and rather scraggy. they have passed their prime for sure...

The Spring Cattail challenge is to learn about this plants habitat and to observe it's leaves.

We spoke of where we found the Cattail, that it enjoys having it's feet in marshland or dipping into the banks of the ponds or along the side of streams.

We observed the leaves, how they were arranged and how they supported the long flower spikes.

We recalled things that we already know about the plant, how the female flower heads pop open and allow the wind to disperse it's fine downy seed. We regretted that we had not been down here to see that happen last year and resolved to keep a close eye on the Cattail this season.

We wondered at the uses of the Cattail and upon reading up on it a bit discovered that the following:

*It is on of the best bioremediation (water filtering plants) on earth.
* the pulp of the common cattail can be used to make rayon, a semi-synthetic fiber
*pollen from cattails is used in firework production
*immature male flowers are considered a delicacy
* The whole plant: roots, young shoots, stems, flower spike, seed and pollen are edible apparently (although I'm not rushing to test this one out :o)
* You can use this plant for thatching

The list goes on and on. It is an incredibly useful plant for us as well as for the environment.

There is clearly  much more to learn and observe about this plant. I for one am looking forward to a whole year of close observation of the Cattail :o)

If you are keen to embark on your own year-long cattail study, pop over to Barb's Handbook of Nature study website.


  1. You are going to learn so much as you work through this study for all four seasons! I look forward to seeing how it goes for your family and what additional information you will glean. Thank you so much for sharing your entry with the OHC carnival.

  2. A year-long study sounds brilliant, I look forward to hearing more about it. I'm currently hosting a nature study blog hop, you'd be very welcome to link up:


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