The Christmas Cattail

(click image for more detail)


On Christmas day, after most humans already had disposed of the fancy paper and ribbons that surrounded their gifts, this pretty cattail (Typha latifolia) continued unwrapping itself at the edge of a Brazoria Wildlife Refuge pond.


Comments always are welcome.

71 thoughts on “The Christmas Cattail

  1. I just read about the staggering tonnage of wrapping paper, ribbons etc. that is discarded on Christmas Day. I cannot bring to mind the exact tonnage but it is staggering. This is too heavy a topic to delve into here, but there is a fundamental problem with a world where one society can spend so much for items to be instantly thrown away while other nations’ children sleep on the streets and die from malnutrition. At least the cattail makes no demands on others.

    1. It’s an interesting commentary on some of the changes that have taken place over the years. I suspect I’m not the only one who remembers being taught — and who still practices — the routine of saving paper and ribbon. As we unwrapped gifts on Christmas morning, both were set aside; later, the paper was smoothed and folded, and the ‘good’ ribbons were neatly coiled and taped to be put in their own box for the next Christmas.

      The pretty little doo-dads that went on top of packages were saved, too. I cherish two that were passed from person to person over the years: white plastic pinecones and branches that still have some of their glitter. They’re more than sixty years old. People today could do the same thing, if they wanted to.

          1. It became my mission in life to learn how to wrap a parcel with as little tape as necessary to keep it closed. (It’s all in how you plan the wrap and fold the corners to wind up with a neat flap at the end. All that and making sure that the initial piece stops the darned thing (box) from squirming out of position, lol

      1. I cannot take any credit for the recycling of wrapping paper but Mary Beth reuses it until there is little left tapeable. Modern folks find it too bothersome to save and reuse things. The throwaway society has been decried for decades and, although more recycling resulted, ever-growing amounts still end up filling the land and seas with trash.

        1. Well, recycling is a great idea. It’s too bad that so many cities (like Houston) have been caught picking up materials meant for recycling and dumping them in landfills. We have the same issue in my town. I don’t know what’s happened since the report came out.

          Solving the problems is complicated, that’s for sure. Ships that dump their trash overboard in international waters are among the biggest contributors to the waste in our waters and on our beaches. Of course there are people who simply toss their fishing line and water bottles, but they aren’t the only culprits.

          1. When Amherst first started recycling there was no plan for how to dispose and some did end up in a landfill. One local in our neighborhood had an old bus parked in her driveway and she filled it with recyclables until there was an actual path for it to be processed. We’ve come a ways from that time and the process is now sophisticated but…China has decided not to accept our plastics etc so the problem grows with the increased amount of eternal wastes in our daily use. Alternatives are being developed with things like banana leaf packaging but Styrofoam peanuts continue to proliferate despite the existence of other products such as corn starch based packing material that dissolves in water. The amount of trash dumped in the oceans is astounding, the largest being The Great Pacific Garbage Patch at twice the size of Texas. Of course our land-based refuse deposits are enormous as well but the stuff in the ocean is killing marine wildlife at alarming rates. I’m sure you must have seen the articles with images of whales dead and full of plastic waste they have ingested.

            1. Not only the whales, but the birds with plastic rings around their necks, and so on. There has been a movement along our coast to provide disposal sites for fishing line, and to educate fishermen about the harm that can do. Some listen, some don’t — but at least the effort’s being made.

            2. Yes, there are many ways the careless disposal of our refuse hurts wildlife. Those plastic rings and soda can holders can get around a young turtle’s carapace and misshape them as the grow around it. There are endless examples. Anyway…this was a lovely post about the cattail preparing to spread its seed, being fruitful, and multiplying That’s where the focus should sit.

            3. There’s never any predicting where the conversation’s going to go after a post. I certainly didn’t expect a discussion of the horrors of gift wrap, but so it goes. I’m just glad you liked the photo. I certainly did, and the thought of it unwrapping itself amused me. Now, it’s on to the new year, and new images.

            4. We each learned a bit. Have a wonderful New Year’s Day and I hope you find subjects galore both today and the year to come. I eagerly await your finds.

  2. I have come to realize that many of the practices my family did to reuse things, that I considered cheap and somewhat embarrassing (but I do it too), was actually repurposing , reusing and recycling. I still save as much Christmas paper, bags and ribbons as possible, just like my Mom.

    Back to your cattail…I am thinking about the fairies it will be sending off.

    1. This may have been the tidiest cattail I’ve ever seen. Most are a little ragged, with fluff pulled out here or there, and remnants hanging around, but not this gem. I liked the combination of sleekness and fluff.

      You’re right that the three ‘Rs’ did double duty for us. They referred to repurposing, reusing, and recycling as surely as they did to reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Every house had the box for saved newspapers somewhere, and paper drives were a common fund-raiser. And of course every load of laundry was hung on an outdoor line. Today, HOAs ban outdoor clotheslines for aesthetic reasons — apparently oblivious to the fact that they’re choosing against solar and wind power. Ah, people!

        1. The urge to control other people’s behavior — what they drink, what they say, how they do laundry — is increasingly an issue in our society. Some people run for political office, others join the school boards, and some get on the boards of HOAs. The ensuing arguments can be amusing, but the policies can be irritating.

          1. Aye, and one I ran into just last night: Making it necessary to enter your actual location in order to read a restaurant’s menu online… Far too much of ‘no one else’s business”!!

    1. Some do. It’s unpredictable, because birds will pull the fluff out, insects play a role, weather can affect them, and so on. The amount of seed they contain is nearly unbelievable. This video shows what they’re capable of.

      1. That’s amazing. I had no idea they became so fluffy and ‘seedy’. I remember seeing them from afar even in P.R.. These are found in marshes pretty much all over. They just require a good telephoto lens since they extend well beyond accessible shorelines.

          1. Oops, I may have misspoke on the source of Kapok; as Encyclopaedia Brittanica says: “Milkweed floss is used in such water-safety equipment as life jackets and belts and will float in water while supporting as much as 30 times its own weight. ”

            1. Yes, that’s right. I learned about the use of milkweed floss last year, I think. I’m still amazed that something so light and fluffy can be used that way without becoming saturated.

            2. And SO silky too! It must’ve been quite frustrating to actually try and stuff it into anything, lol. (I gathered some seed for a friend this Fall and it kept popping out of the bag as the ‘parachutes’ fluffed up as they dried.

    1. They’re not quite as white as snow when they really fluff out, but, yes –they’re pretty impressive. I rarely see an entire stand in the same stage of development, although I suppose it happens, and I’m just not around. This one intrigued me because it was so neat and tidy: something else I don’t see very often.

    1. Usually, I tend to keep the foreground in focus, but things got reversed here, and I enjoyed the way the blades in the foreground were softer and the fluff was sharp.

      It took a while to line things up the way I wanted. In fact, it took so long that two carloads of birders stopped to see what I was looking at. When I said, “These cattails,” their interest flagged and they drove away.

  3. A beautiful image, Linda! I remember a marsh full of them when I was young, in the swamp behind the house where I grew up. Red-winged blackirds clung to the stalks, calling their characteristic song. It was a magical place for a small child.

    1. At the refuge, the red-winged blackbirds favor the cattails, too. I often hear them calling, but they can be hard to see inside the tangle of growth. They certainly can hide themselves away when they choose. I grew up with them clinging to the cornstalks in Iowa, singing their hearts out. They were as much a part of our world as the meadowlarks, and as beloved.

  4. You’ve made cattail shedding its seeds into a lovely image. I like the angle the reeds themselves take and the way the cattail itself seems to be leading the way somewhere. But I really like the background and the way the water almost seems like clouds.

    1. This wasn’t the large pond where I often photograph birds, but a much smaller pond, with multiple stands of cattails and other vegetation threaded through it. This was taken right at the edge, and I think a combination of shadows and under-the-surface plant growth contributed to the water’s appearance.

      If you like the angle of the reeds, you probably would have enjoyed the angle of the photographer, too. Isolating those elements required a few contortions — you know about those!

      1. Contortionism…one of the many tools in the photographer’s kit. It used to be no big deal. Now it’s a bit more of a challenge.
        However it happened, the background is a nice complement to the subject and not at all distracting.

  5. Love the photo. Years ago I cut some cat tails to use as a fall decoration. When I came home from work there were “unwrapped cattails all over the den. My cats had discovered the cattails and gee did they have a good time with them.

    1. Maybe your cats thought some friends had come to visit. There’s nothing like a new playmate — or a new toy — to make the kitties happy. I know that spraying cattails with hairspray will keep them from fluffing out on their own. I’ve never done that with cattails, but I did give some little bluestem a very light spritz and it lasted with its flowers intact for several years.

      1. Yes, the hair spray thing I had heard ie effective. I never thought to do that but I think learned of the tip, after the fact. I might just try spray on some of the prairie grasses some day.

  6. Some, before seeding are used in artistic flower arrangement, usually in the dried wild-flower arrangements. They are probably grown commercially for that purpose.
    They are clogging up a creek near our place.

    1. I’ve never heard of them being grown commercially, perhaps because they’re so prolific here. (Hence, the clogging up of your creek.) But I certainly can imagine commercial interests finding sources to harvest; they do make nice additions to arrangements, provided they’re properly treated. Even a good hairspray will do the trick, although I suppose florists have their own ways.

      My mother recalled using the unripened cattails as torches. They’d soak them in some sort of oil — perhaps coal oil, since they lived in a coal mining area and I grew up hearing oil lamps called coal oil lamps.

  7. I recall being amazed as a child, that the seeds grow in a seemingly never-ending spiral all the way down the stalk. Now it makes me think (yet again!) of the wonderful Fibonacci.
    Such beautifully rich tones here Linda!

    1. I’d stopped to see if there were birds other than coots in this pond when I noticed this cattail bending over the water. It attracted me because of the clean lines; the colors only became apparent after I saw it on the computer. A little cropping helped the composition, but I really like the colors. It was one of those days with high, thin clouds that kept changing the color of the water: very pretty.

    1. I always loved my stocking. There’s still something about a collection of little things that’s charming and enjoyable. The chocolate was the best: little Dutch shoes, or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. I wonder if any chocolatier ever has produced chocolate cattails? This one looks as though it could be made of chocolate.

    1. Well, there’s waste, and then there’s excusable extravagance. There’s no reason to waste things, but I’d hate to have every gift wrapped in recycled newspapers or grocery bags. A little beauty during the season is entirely worthwhile — especially if the gift paper and ribbons get recycled. All that aside, I thought the cattail was beautiful, too: nicely packaged, but simple.

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