Edging ponds and marshes, these stout-stemmed perennials grow to be 4 to 8 feet tall and are often found in dense clusters. Their dense, brown, cylindrical flowering spike can be found now through autumn before it becomes a downy mass of white. Atop the brown cylindrical female flower is a yellowish, club-like spike of tiny male flowers.
Cattails are a great nesting site for red-winged blackbirds, duck, geese, and fish. Muskrats and beavers enjoy eating the shoots and roots, while teal ducks, finches, and least bitterns eat the seeds.
The rootstock is mostly starch and is edible;l it was ground into meal by Native Americans and the early colonists also used it for food. The young shoots can be eaten like asparagus, and the immature flower spikes can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob.
Medicinally American Indians poulticed the roots into a jelly-like substance to cure wounds, sores, boils, inflammations, scalds, and burns.
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Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who spends her time exploring and learning about the unique history and nature in North East Ohio. She lives with her husband and cat in Wooster where she is also a family portrait and nature photographer as well as grows and cans her own vegetables. When she's not doing that, yoga and embroidery (not at the same time) are other things she enjoys.