City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

October 25, 2016

October 25th

Filed under: Cattails, Milk Weed, picnic site 6, Unidentified — canopus56 @ 7:58 pm

A Cat’s Tale

5:15 p.m. Today, a Tuesday, has been a warm, almost summer, day with clear skies. On the canyon road, there are about twenty-five walkers and runners, but only two cars with hunters. At milepost 1.5 and looking south, the foreground trees and background trees on the slope are all grey, with only four exceptions. Nonetheless, against the deepening turquoise sky, the leafless Pleasant Valley has its own appeal.

Jogging up canyon, I pass a small marsh below picnic site 6 on the west side of the road. The two stands of common cattails (Typha latifolia L.) in the canyon have almost turned completely brown. Some green remains at their bases. The first stand fills the flood retention pond where City Creek Canyon Road intersects Bonneville Drive. There the cattails are over six feet tall and are capped by foot long spikes. The second is a small stand of four plants in a small seep marsh where the road bends just south of picnic site 6. The few cattails here stand in here against two unidentified shrubs: the leaves of one are deep purple, and the other a dark wine red.

In the 1980s and 1990s, this used to be one of my favorite places in the lower canyons. This mini-marsh was thick with cattails, but in the early 2000s, a City front loader came in, scoured the ground clean, and removed the cattail grove. The City may have been concerned that the marsh was retaining too much water, and the water would seep underneath, the water would freeze and then destroy the road with winter heave. Now, fifteen years later, a few cattails have found their way back into the marsh, along with, Utah milkweed Utah milkweed, a less dramatic version of the common Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), and a large grove of western poison ivy. Birds have probably carried the seeds the approximately seven-tenths of a mile between the flood retention pond at the canyon’s mouth and the seep. In another ten years, I hope to see the full cattail grove restored.

The common cattail is a world-spanning plant. University of New Mexico botanist H. D. Harrington, in his classic book “Edible Plants of the Rocky Mountains”, describes the many ways this edible plant can be used. The early shoots can be eaten raw and added to salads; the early tubular flower stalks can be boiled; pollen can be shaken from the mature flower tubes and the pollen is used as a flour; and, the mature roots can be leeched and then boiled like potatoes. The root tuber has such a high starch content that it causes illness if eaten without preparation. The tuber needs to be chopped and leeched of part of its starch, which leaves enough starch behind that cattail root is similar to a potato. And as noted here previously, cattail groves provide shelter and a hunting ground favored by hummingbirds (August 1st). After finishing today’s jog at the flood retention pond, I try to pull a cattail out of the marsh bottom. It breaks near the surface but brings out part of the root tuber. The tuber is a reflective, bright white, and the white appears similar to the children’s paste which is also made almost entirely of starch. I will have to return with a shovel in order to extract one.

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