Thursday, June 17, 2010

What to Do With a Cattail Patch?

This section of the high school wetland was packed with cattails a year ago. Cattails are native, and provide good habitat for redwing blackbirds and other wildlife, but if left unchecked they would soon take over the whole wetland. Their spread, via rhizomes and seed, has added to the maintenance required to sustain a diverse plant community. A combination of repeated cutting and pulling of the cattails freed up this area for less aggressive natives like pickerelweed, arrowhead and wild rice, all of which need consistently wet soil to thrive.
The last stronghold of cattails is this one small corner of the wetland. After talking to Tim, the ecology teacher at the high school who I collaborate with to maintain the wetlands, we decided to cut down this last patch. After I did so one evening, a good friend who knows edible plants happened to be walking by and stopped to say hello. "Why don't you eat them instead of just cutting them down?", he asked, and then went on to explain how to eat them raw. I tried one, and found it to be unexpectedly tasty. An internet search later on yielded info on five ways to eat cattails at different times of the year.

Here, then, is a new approach to maintaining ecological diversity by keeping cattails in check through ongoing harvest. Two dimensions of environmentalism--Eat Local and Habitat Restoration--meet over a helping of cattails.

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