By Boak Wiesner
Considering the sheer rapidity at which plants in the marsh grow as well as the half-million seeds a single cattail head produces, this would be a good name. It’s actually a play on the name “Sea of Fecundity” which, of course, is seen on the Moon’s lower right limb as we look at it.
How fast a living community of plants converts sunlight into sugars, starch, and cellulose through photosynthesis is called productivity. It’s the basis for life. (So important that one of my college ecology texts put the table comparing different biomes before the title page!) Marshes have much higher rates of productivity than forests or prairies. There’s a lot of “stuff” in a marsh.
Consider cattails. Descriptions of their multitude of uses fill books. You can eat ‘em. Their rhizomes, the thick root-like structures down there in the muck, can be pounded to extract the starch. The lower parts of the stalks taste like cucumbers and are good in stir fry. Even the gooey sap between the leaves is starchy. Makes a nice smooth gravy. You can soak up blood with the dried seed heads, the cat’s tail. They float, too, so you could stuff a life jacket with them.
The leaves of cattails are composed of a layer of hollow beams that look like boxes of linguine which makes them very strong, structurally. They can be woven or sewn, with twine made from the inner bark of basswood trees, into mats to put on the floor or hung on the inside walls of a winter shelter to create a double wall for insulation.
Then there’s Jewelweed. Or Touch-me-not. Or Impatiens. Call it what you will, the sap contains 2-methoxy – 1, 4-naphthoquinone. Next time you stumble into a patch of nettles or brush up against some Poison Ivy, crush some stalks of Jewelweed on the affected area for some soothing relief. Works for piles, too. Yeah those. This is the very first medicinal plant I ever learned about at a day camp just a stone’s throw from here.
Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.