The Winter Journal: Entry #2 ~ Cattails

For our Winter Journal this week, we joined the Handbook of Nature Study's Winter Series Challenge #1 on Cattails. I am jumping in with the current challenge because I am challenge oriented like that. We also started the series on Discover Nature in Winter and I will share in another post some of the ideas we used from Week 1 World of Winter and Week 2: Snow. I also plan to go back through the series from the beginning, using the Handbook of Nature Study as our guide, and as Barb puts it, "the great outdoors as our classroom."

Whenever possible, our outdoor hour will also be a survival study. We recently completed a preparedness study called Prepare and Pray, and learned some practical outdoor skills. I am not ready to begin Part 2 of that series, Blessed Assurance, so this will enable us to continue on with our family preparedness study at a relaxed and enjoyable pace. Our outdoor hour will also fill the gap since we completed Prepare and Pray. I am hoping that we get into a habit of doing this, and/or incorporate it with our Blessed Assurance study in the future.

For our nature study on cattails, we began by reading from the book Handbook of Nature Study ~ pages 500-503: The Cattail. Then we went on our nature walk at the pond that we visited for our first winter journal entry, and studied the cattail.

The cattail, from the family Typhaceae, genus Typha is a monocot (like a grass) and an angiosperm. The seed head, called a spike, contains many tiny seed heads attached to a hair. When ripe, the spikes fluff and the seeds are dispersed by the wind.
There are actually two spikes in a cattail plant ~ a female and a male one. When the male pollinates the female spike in the Spring, it falls away. So, we must be seeing the female spikes in the winter?
The seeds fluff off easily on some . . .
. . .but less easy on others.
We wondered if it varied by species or maturity? Instead of staying close to the main pond, we hiked up and went off trail ~ sort of. After we followed the cattail creek that runs through the marsh land, (we named it for the cattails that grow in the small creek), we followed a deer run. It was the perfect trail and led us to two smaller ponds lined with cattails all around.
After we hiked to the last pond, we walked back along the way we came.
We brought along a small shovel in hopes of digging up some rhizomes. We read about how the rhizomes can be soaked in water, the fibrous parts broken apart and then the water drained off and the starch dehydrated to make flour. But they were frozen solid in the ground!
We also read about all of the uses of the cattail and how it is a great survival plant! During various times of the year, the whole plant is edible. There are also various uses for the stalks (for weaving), and the fluff can be used for filling a pillow (as long as it is padded with foam because the fluff can cause hives).
Nathan thought the cattails would make great spears.
We have a creek that flows through our property in Montana, and the thought occurred to me to transplant some. The cattail spreads by the seeds in the fluff and also by the spreading of the rhizomes. So all we would have to do it dig up a few (making sure to get the rhizomes) and transplant them . . . maybe in the Spring when the ice thaws.
Oh, much to our excitement, we saw an otter! He was so cute! He crawled though the culvert . . .
. . . came out the other end and disappeared into the hole in the ice.
We saw him swimming below the ice and watched for a while . . . hoping he would come up again.
We thought this would be a good place to sketch in our journal. . . still hoping we would see the little guy again.
Jordan's Sketch
Dylan being quiet, still and contemplative . . . a part of the process of nature journaling.
Nathan chose the side of the culvert where we first saw the otter for his sketch.
Nathan's Sketch
After we got home and finished our sketches, we talked about the kind of information we should include in our journal. We focused on the date, time, location, temperature, weather, and sunrise and sunset times (of which we are keeping track of for our Seasonal Journal ~ to see if there is truth to the saying "As the day's lengthen, the cold strengthens"). We discussed what else we can include and I will share that in another post!
The last bit of our nature study was to gather some samples to take home. I am so glad we did this! This is when we began to notice the different species of cattail. Some were large and some were much smaller than the others. They also varied in color.
For one of our survival projects, we made cattail torches (from the smallest ones).
We dipped the cattail spikes in olive oil and lit it with a match.
We were in awe that it burned so slowly and so cleanly!
Yet, when we tried to light a cattail spike not dipped in oil, it wouldn't stay lit.
I knew that cattail fluff is often used for tinder, so I was curious. I had Jordan procure us a supply of cattail fluff to use as tender. . .
The picture above is the cattail fluff from one large cattail spike (in a gallon sized bag).
Then using his magnesium fire starter, Jordan lit the cattail fluff on fire.
It did indeed make a good tinder for catching and lighting the sparks. . .
So we reasoned that the cattail spike is too condensed to light on fire. . .
We experimented with fluff packed into a ball and then spread out to test our hypothesis. The condensed fluff did not burn as well. You can see in the above picture how it blackened it and then quit burning.

Then we tried again with the cattail fluff spread out. It lit quickly, but did not burn long. Our conclusion is that cattail fluff makes good tinder because it catches the spark of the fire starter. . . however, because it does not burn long, we would need something that it could light to start an effective fire (such as paper, dried leaves, small twigs, etc.) in a survival situation.

We really enjoyed our outdoor hour! I enjoyed writing this post and I hope you enjoyed reading it!