The Edge of “Outskirts”

Walk with me to the outskirts. You remember, the edges. We will walk past the small grove of ash trees towering over invasive tenacious buckthorn. As we reach the edge the ground will be soft. There’s water near the surface here. Here near a new outskirt we’ll find reed canary grass. In this place it always grows at the edge of the outskirts. We take just a few more steps and we arrive. At this “outskirt” the broad-leafed cattail grows in tangled abundance. This outskirt is peaceful, the north wind cannot reach the sheltered wetland where this outskirt is found.DSC_0128_859sig

It is cold here, but we won’t stay long. We will linger a few minutes to examine this outskirts plant. Speak Latin with me, say Typha latifolia. We could simply call it cattail, but personally the Latin term is more stimulating. If we could look at a map of North America we would see that broad-leafed cattail grows in every state of the lower 48, into Canada and on to Alaska. If we had come here when the cattail were green and growing we could have enjoyed a cattail snack. During the growing season, all parts of the cattail are edible. Since we cannot see it now you should know that cattail pollen is considered a fine flour substitute. Its rich yellow color adds an eye appealing color to fresh pancakes. Are you hungry yet? One more thing about cattail as food. An acre of cattail would produce about 6,400 pounds of flour. In comparison, an acre of wheat produces about 65 bushels, each bushel produces 42 pounds of flour. Do the math, an acre of wheat will produce about 2730 pounds of flour. Now you are wondering, why don’t we have cattail flour.DSC_0132_861sig.jpg

I know what you are thinking. It’s cold. Yes, it is, my fingers are feeling it. Before we go, take a look again at this plant. So common, but it’s definitely an “outskirts” plant. Grab one of the brown seed heads, the ones that look like brown hotdogs on a stick. Let’s try counting the seeds. Ok, right there could be over 300,000 on one seed head. By the way the cattail seed is about 2mm long you can see some of them sticking to the seed head. Yes, that’s unimaginable! Let me tell you cattail can also spread by their roots. Cattail rhizomes spread under water, they can even grow while floating in the water. But an acre of cattails may only come from a few cattail plants whose rhizomes have spread over the space.DSC_0145_864sig

Yes, it’s cold. Walk back to the car with me. There are many other reasons why this common wetland plant is an exceptional “outskirts” plant. Since the parking lot is close, listen to two more. This is not a trick question, or a riddle. What do cattail do to prevent overpopulation a wetland? They emit a toxin which prevents germination of their own species. The last reason is one of my favorites. cattail are the perfect habitat for red-winged blackbirds. They make their nests of cattail, and they find their insect food on the cattail plants. Males, who return first in the spring use the old mostly bare seed stems as perches when they establish a cattail territory.

Oh, it has been on my mind that perhaps the cattail is not really an “outskirts” plant. In thinking about it perhaps we should classify the broad-leafed cattail as an “edge of outskirts” plant. You know at the outskirts of the outskirts. Why? It’s not a big enough example of the majesty and power of God.

In Job 26:14 we discover the true “outskirts” examples: God has hung the earth on nothing! What would you hang the earth on if it were up to you? We read that another of the “outskirts” of God’s majesty and power are when God, “wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.” Job 26:8  Don’t stop, I won’t even make you uneasy by asking you how many clouds you have made, and we won’t think about filling them with water without bursting.

Would you agree? The broad-leafed cattail even though truly amazing really should be an “edge of outskirts” example of the power of God? Could we drive home in silence?  Thinking about “outskirts.” makes talk seem unfitting.DSC_0153_867sigDSC_0157_868sig




Author: davidwellis

What does a grandfather, husband, former public school teacher and Education Specialist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service with many life experiences in nature do with them? A naturalist with a camera-makes outside a daily destination. My confidence is that God will guide my words, and photos. We live in a magnificent world, come and look at it with me through eyes, lens and words. To God be the glory. Current Profile Photo- Prickly Ash, the name summarizes this brushy undergrowth well. It fascinates me with its thorny branches. Seeing a vine wrapped around the trunk called for a photo.