cattails (Typha latifolia) are
found growing bunched
together in the creek. They are perennial herbs, and are invasive (tending to
spread) plants. The cattail's roots are edible and can be eaten by humans and
ducks. Leaves of an average cattail can grow up to nine feet tall. The
buoyant leaves were used for twine for small toys. When mature, a round,
cigar-shaped flower spike appears.
If soaked in oil, they can be used as torches. Muskrats utilize the roots and
leaves. Birds such as the red winged blackbird use them for nesting,
except when the strands get too dense.
Ohlones wove the dried leaves into matting and used the distinctive brown
flowers from the “cattail” shaped compact mass on the top of the stem
as insulation, lining cradle baskets with the fluff from the pulled apart
The brown cigar shaped terminal part of the stalk is called an inflorescence. This produces minute seeds numbering up to 266,000 seeds per spike. The spike bursts under dry conditions, releasing the fruit with bristly hairs that is dispersed by the wind. When the fruit comes in contact with the water, it opens and releases the seed which then sinks and starts to germinate. Cattails can also reproduce vegetatively when rhizomes spread in the mud and grow new sprouts.
Cattail leaves and stems have been used around the world as bedding, thatching, and matting, and in the manufacture of baskets, boats and rafts, shoes, ropes, and paper. Native Americans used common cattail as food. Rhizomes were dried and ground into flour or eaten as cooked vegetables. Young cattails were eaten like ears of corn and young stems were eaten raw or cooked.
This station highlights the function of riparian woodlands in a marsh-like environment. Riparian vegetation plays an important part in the aquatic ecosystem. The canopy provides a constant influx of debris that provides organisms with habitat.
LESSON: Defining the riparian zones - You may want to have student sketch the aquatic, riparian, and floodplain in this area. The aquatic area is generally wet all year round. The riparian area is the terrestrial zone, but wet soil influences the growth. A floodplain is the area that is flooded only during high rains. Sediment from the creek starts building up a soil base through these yearly processes.
LESSON. The recycling of vegetation - Have the students look at the area and record what debris is added to the creek and what affect it may have. You may want them to look at the canopy and the root system of the vegetation to best predict what kind of debris would be added. For example, too many dead logs and branches could dam the creek and prevent movement. This water could become stagnant (without oxygen) and cause organisms to avoid this area.
LESSON. Cattails - Talk a little about cattails and point out the difference between a cattail and the tules. Make them look at how the cattails are growing and show the students the parts. The cattail is a “weed” with just a stem and fancy seed producing cigar.
LESSON. Soil Core - If you have a soil auger (coring device), have student take a core. Use a tray to place the core in and have students look at their soil with their hand lenses. Instruct the student to remove interesting items with forceps