Spraying the Native Invasion… But can you eat or wear it?

My second week on the job & what can I can say while I am knee deep in water. As a Marine I am no stranger to having a heavy backpack and squishy socks because of training or a mission. On this day we were patrolling my summer LHIP home away from home… the Hole-In-The-Donut searching for the not so elusive and not so rare Southern Cattail (T. domingensis). All field operations ecological or military always start off with a mission & safety brief. As we might know due to anthropocentric activities some naturally occurring species can get physically out of hand for natural resources managers across the nation this poses an interesting environmental conundrum that the books would call a Native Invasion. Both the common and southern cattail species are native to Florida wetlands and other freshwater ecosystems one of their shared ecosystem functions (jobs) is to filter water… And that is why this plant is situated perfectly in the Everglades, one would think… The Florida Exotics Pest Plant Council defines a Noxious Weed as any living stage of a parasitic or other plant which may be a serious agricultural threat to Florida. In short a plant that can negatively impact threatened, commercially exploited, and endangered plants; as well as if the botanical species is naturalized & has the ability to disrupt any native plant communities which naturally occur in the landscape. Cattail disrupts wetland native plant communities due to its natural ability to use nutrient rich deposits in this historic agricultural area as well as eutrophic water pulses from northern agricultural areas. What did we DO? The team & I sprayed each identified cattail closely with glyphosate, an herbicide which readers would commonly associate with Round-Up. From an agricultural perspective on weed management it was introduced to farmers in the late mid-1970 and for the past 40 years it has been the go-to for weed eradication. Five hours & several liters later… The experience & day was done but the thoughts kept swimming in my watershed of my mind. Can cattail be harvested for food, fiber, fuel, feed, fodder, or even medicine? We might suspect that budgetary constraints & people power can & does limit restoration efforts. I do believe that we can add Everglades’ Natural Resources Management & Protection division at Everglade National Park to the list of NPS’s unsung heroes. While concluding that exploring biomass removal, i.e. harvesting cattail could lead to a beneficial, sustainable, and ecologically reciprocal relationship between the landscape, managers, and agriculturalists. (Look into Paludiculture?!) Could cattail be the NEXT Sexy Crop, like Hemp?! I don’t really know, but the current literature supports my conclusion and my stomach supports that tender cattail shoots in chicken broth taste like thick Ramen Noodles… Who would have ever thought that the Everglades would understand the plight of the poor college student…? https://www.theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Energy%20Crop%20White%20Paper%20vF.pdf

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