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Photo by Evelyn Horn Cattails in the fall. Inset photo is closeup, taken by Al Schneider.

Plants of the Western Slope Nov. 2, 2016

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Cattails (Again)

Perhaps you will recall my column of Sept. 6 about cattails. Or perhaps you'll remember the photo below and that I mentioned that I hadn't seen a cattail like that. Well, now I've been more observant!

I spent some time at Hart's Basin this afternoon and I found the cattails in their "seed dispersal" mode. Some were still plain brown, but most were shedding their seeds! The wind had died down but a breeze came by and the air was filled with fluffy tailed seeds! What a grand moment! It seems that I've timed this just right!

And of course the internet provides information. I found a site about survival techniques and there was abundant information about cattails. First the plant grows wherever you find water, so it is easy to locate. And I immediately think about our polluted waters!

But the plant can be used as food, as material for shelter, as cordage, and as medicine for a multitude of ailments. In spring, the stems can be pulled up, peeled and eaten (raw or boiled), so also can the root (pull on it till it breaks free). The brown flower heads can be roasted and eaten (think "corn on the cob"). By late summer, the pollen has formed atop the brown flowering head and the pollen can be collected by shaking the head. It can be used as flour or thickening for gravies and soups. The root can be mashed and soaked to release the starch which will appear as a wet flour. It seems to me that the best advice is to collect the cattail parts very carefully (what's upstream?). The website, '6 Survival Uses for Cattails' includes uses for building materials, shelters, baskets, cordage and medicinal uses.

I've known people who were making baskets and such from native materials and they often mentioned how sharp the edges were. Seems like I have another appointment with Hart's Basin cattails!

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Evelyn Horn, Plants of the Western Slope
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