Tuesday, April 19, 2011

OHC Spring Series #5: Year-Long Cattail Study

For the past few weeks for the girls' nature study, we did the Outdoor Hour Challenge Spring Series #5: Year-Long Cattail Study - Spring Cattail Observations.  We have enjoyed using the lessons and ideas from the Handbook of Nature Study website that uses the book with the same title (it is written by Anna Botsford Comstock).

For this entry, the typeface in bold is from the website; the typeface in italics is from the book ("Handbook of Nature Study"), and the typeface that is left plain are my thoughts/writing.

Inside Preparation Work:

Read pages 500-502 in the Handbook of Nature Study if you have not done so before. It might also be beneficial to read it again this season and highlight the parts that contain information about the leaves of the cattail plant. We will be focusing this season on where the cattail grows and what the leaves look like as they grow up from the plant. Prepare yourself for this week’s outdoor time by reading #1, #2, #4, and #5 suggestions for study on page 502.

These are some exerpts from the book that I found interesting and shared with Sophia and Olivia:

It is an interesting process to take apart a cattail plant; the lower, shorter leaves surround the base of the plant, giving it size and strength. All the leaves have the same general shape, but vary in length. Each leaf consists of two parts; the free portion, which is long and narrow and flat toward its tepering tip but is bent into a trough as it nears the plant, and the lower portion, which clasps the plant entirely or partially, depending upon whether it is an outer or inner leaf.

This section of the cattail had multiple layers
"kind of like an onion," Sophia obseved.

The lower portion, which clasps the plant entirely or partially...adds to its strength.

In June and early July,...the cattail...will be seen to have the upper half of the cat's tail much narrower and different in shape from the lower half. .... It seems to be clothed with a fine drooping fringe of olive yellow. .... We see that this fringe is a mass of crowded anthers, two or three of them being attached to the same stalk by a short filament.  These anthers are packed full of pollen.

If we look at the leaf in cross section, we can see the two thick walls strengthened by the framework of stiff veins which divide the interior into long cells.

We had never taken apart a cattail, so it was interesting
to see the framework of veins which divide the
interior into long cells. The cells are supported
by the stiff partitions.

If we cut the leaf lengthwise we can see that these long cells are supported by stiff, coarse partitions.

When we cut the cattails into cross-sections,
the little sections almost looked like cardboard.

The cattail is adapted for living in swaps where the soil is wet but not under water all the time.

Despite drying overnight the sections of cattails
that we brought indoors, the girls were
still able to squeeze quite a bit of water from them.

The cattail roots are fine and fibrous.

Outdoor Hour Time:

Enjoy your outdoor time this week at your cattail spot. If you have been participating in the year-long cattail study since last autumn, you will know just where to look for cattails. Use the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study to talk a little about the habitat where your cattails are growing.

On March 30th, there was still snow on the ground in the pasture. 
There was a thin covering of ice on the pond. 
The cattails are in the middle of the pond and not accessible.

During the previous summer, the horses ate most of the cattails
since the pond had dried up.  They didn't disturb the root system
so the cattails should grow again this spring. 

Since the girls couldn't reach the cattails,
they ended up playing with the ice and water.

They enjoyed using sticks to break the ice and
watch the water bubble up through the openings.

Continuing on our nature walk through the pasture,
we went to the wooded area in the northwest section.
We found a variety of pheasant feathers there,
including these long tail feathers!

Since the cattails were so far in the pond, and the water was higher than the top of our boots, we've been looking for cattails that we could more closely observe. We went to William O'Brien State Park on April 7th. We went on a 1.5 mile hike along the St. Croix River.  In several sections, the trail was flooded the water was so high.  Didn't see any cattails, though.

The girls taking a short break on their favorite rock
along the St. Croix River.

We continued on the trail and followed our way to Lake Alice.  We stopped to enjoy the view of the half-melted lake.  Lake Alice didn't have any cattails either along the shoreline...or at least in the area we went by.

The girls sitting on a bench overlooking Lake Alice
in William O'Brien State Park.
Follow-Up Activity:

Make sure to allow some time after your outdoor hour to discuss any subjects that your child finds interesting. Encourage the completion of a nature journal entry recording your observation of your cattails.

I typed and printed out a list of the questions presented in 1 and 2 in the "Handbook of Nature Study" since the questions in 4 and 5 were focused on examining the cattail plant and leaves which were inaccessible to the girls at this time.  The questions were put into their nature journals and answered.  Here are the questions with the answers as they relate the section of cattails that we'll be studying on our property:


Where are the cattails found? The cattails are found in the pond.

Is the land on which they grown under water all the year? At any part of the year? Is it dry land all the year? The land is under water for part of the year (in the spring).  By mid-summer the pond usually is gone.

What happens to the cattails if the land on which they grow is flooded for a long season? The land hasn't been flooded for the entire spring and summer season for many years.  About 15 years ago, it use to be a year-round pond and there were no cattails.  As the land alternated between being wet and dry, the cattails began growing.

What happens to them if the land is drained? The cattails do come back each year, despite being dry for most of the summer and fall.


How wide a strip do the cattails cover, where you have found them? I think the area is about 75' wide and long.  At some point, the girls and I should measure the area.  We haven't done that yet.

Are they near a pond or brook or stream? The cattails are in the pond.

Do they grow out in the stream? There isn't a stream on the property.

Why do they not extend further inland? The cattails prefer a moister soil, and seem concentrated in the area where there is a seasonal pond.

What is the character of the soil on which they grow? The character of the soil depends on the season and the level of moisture in the ground.

Make sure to encourage your child to sketch the cattail leaves. Also try to include a little of the habitat that your cattails are growing in during this season. Include in your sketch any insects, birds, or animals that you observed near your cattails during your outdoor time.

There aren't any insects or animals (except the horses) that were in the pasture that we observed.  The birds we saw the most of were red-winged blackbirds.  They sat on the fence posts that ran through the middle of the pond (the fence divides the farm from the neighbor's property).

Here are their nature journal entries:

Sophia's journal entry about cattails. 

Olivia's journal entry about cattails.


Fairy Tale Mama said...

I enjoyed checking out your photos. Great post :-)

Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

What a thorough study of your cattails...loved seeing how you dissected them and looked closely. I think they observed a lot and their nature journals reflect that both in words and sketches.

Your hike looks like one I would love to take! Thanks for sharing everything with the OHC.

Pebblekeeper ~ Angie said...

What a great time! We have cut them open on the new growth - but not in the winter. I will look forward to that next year. It looks like y'all enjoy the studies as much as our family does. What a blessing!