Typha spp., Nutrients In, Nutrients Out and Clean Water for Community Wildlife

Ditches, stormwater ponds, roadside rights-of-way and other community infrastructure serve as important habitat for wildlife in today’s Urban Core.

Undeniably, wildlife use the native, adapted and even invasive plants growing in these areas for forage, communal and breeding habitat.

Wildlife seek out community open spaces, including stormwater ponds and neighborhood ditches

One of my favorits examples is the large stormwater pond next to my cardiologist’s office in St. Augustine.  The man-made pond is a virtual roseate spoonbill, Platalea ajaja, rookery.

Though fodder for another story, a South West Florida Water management Biologist once told me the state does not want any wildlife utilizing stormwater ponds for anything because of potential pollutants.  Right.  Tell that to the birds and fish.

Here in Florida, most of these wet areas provide perfect growing areas for a Florida native plant, Typha latifolia aka cattails.

Learn to love cattails, they clean water and provide forage and refuge for wildlife

Admittedly, cattails are an aggressive plant, creating littoral shelf monocultures in many places.  However cattails are one of nature’s most efficient water treatment approaches.  They filter out massive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous along with other pollutants.

Unfortunately, many community infrastructure maintenance staff view these native water cleansing plants as a nuisance species, one best dealt with through chemical controls.

Killing cattails with roundup in a stormwater pond and leaving the plants in the pond to decompose is a sure-fire way of being obvious about not understanding important dynamics of nature’s nutrient remediation (nitrogen and phosphorous) and other pollutants, a process I refer to as the  ‘Nutrients In – Nutrients Out’ equation.

How often have you seen vast stretches of cattails killed by the action of Roundup’s active ingredient – Glyphosate – “GLY-PHO-SATE”.

Monsanto has often spoke of the safety of Roundup and I’ve even seen Roundup representatives drinking the diluted mixture.  However this article is not about Roundup.

Granted cattails can overwhelm a wet area.

Cattails sequester pollutants in their biomass, cleaning toxins from our waterways

Yet perhaps nature knows the earth needs clean water and uses cattails to accomplish the task.

So here in Florida and elsewhere, by the time Typha is killed by Roundup or reaches maturity as a plant, large quantities of pollutants have been removed from stormwater and sequestered in the species’ biomass.

It is in this part of the equation where we need to break the cycle of Nutrients In Nutrients Out.

Unfortunately some infrastructure maintenance crews readily apply Roundup at first sight of the plants, killing the cattails.  Once the plants fall back into the pond and begin to decay, all the heavy metals, nitrogen, phosphorous, oils and greases and other contaminants are soon released right back into the water.

The Nutrients In, Nutrients Out equation is simple.  We put pollutants in our waterways, cattails take pollutants out of our water ways.

We should learn to take advantage of nature’s ingenuity.

But Roundup use concentrates nutrient and pollutants in our water resources.

Plants are efficient at removing pollutants and cleaning water.

Yet if the plants are killed and allowed to decay in the pond, then all the pollutants and nutrients are re-released right back into the waterbody.

The Nutrients In Nutrients Out cycle must be broken to finally clean stormwater.

Harvesting Typha is the best long term answer to nutrient removal.

The cattails can then be composted and, after Toxicity characteristic leaching procedure tests (TCLP) the composted biomass can be used as community mulch or nutrient rich fertilizer.

Understanding the Nutrients In Nutrients Out cycle is critical to effective and sustainable control of stormwater pollution.

We put pollutants in our waterways, cattails take pollutants out of our water ways.

Befriending cattails as water and wildlife friendly plants is smart for long term community wildlife population health.  Cattails provide forage for many birds.  They offer communal refuge for fish, birds, reptiles and mammals.  The species cleans the air and filters water.

Wildlife are going to use community infrastructure such as stormwater ponds, Typha can help keep the water clean

Smile next time you see vast communities of cattails.  Nature is trying to correct our mankind inspired pollution problem.  Better yet, add a few cattails to your neighborhood drainage ditch.

 

© 2012, Kevin Songer. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. says

    Kevin I absolutely love seeing cattails. There is something child like in their appearance reminding me of gentler times. Cattails found their way to my pond and I am so grateful for them. We do have to control them a bit, but the water appreciates them and the toads, frogs and many other critters love them too…I also love seeing them in the wetlands and runoff areas…great post reminding us to not negatively judge these plants too quickly.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Harmony Through Chaos

    • Kevin Songer says

      Donna: Thank you for your thoughts. Cattails do evoke many childhood memories. Perhaps our fascination with these plants stems from our desire to grab a drying flower head and let the wind carry the fluffy seeds everywhere!

    • Kevin Songer says

      Yes, Roundup in the water. Here in Florida many cities and even the state spray herbicides to control aquatic vegetation. The problem is that all the dead vegetation falls back into the water, releasing pollutants right back into the same place the cattails had previously cleaned the pollutants out of.

    • Kevin Songer says

      HI Kathy! Thank you for your post. Here in Florida cattails can become monoculture type communities, crowding out other aquatic plants. They thrive where pollution exists, eating up the nitrogen and phosphorous in the water. So as Florida’s waterways become more polluted, the cattails become more numerous. Even though cattails are a Florida native plant, some view the species as a nuisance. I say they are important!

  2. Sue Sweeney says

    In CT, we could use more cattails — so much of their habitat is over run with invasive Phragmites which, as far as I know, does nothing useful in North America. May be the Roundup Rep would like to munch on some.

    • says

      I’m with you, Sue! I would totally love to see more cattails. Invasive Phragmites is a real problem around here, but the way it’s dealt with is terrifying. Our local wildlife refuges both here and in NJ will close for a day and the planes will go up spraying Roundup bombs all over the refuge. Yes, it controls the phrags (for a season), but it also wipes out everything else. And then the rangers wonder why the nesting success of the waterfowl is not so good, or why shorebird numbers are down, and what about the frogs and toads and other wildlife in the water? There has to be a better way!
      Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Starting From Scratch In the Wildlife Garden

  3. says

    Kevin,

    You’ll be pleased to hear that they planted cattails in one half of the littoral zone of our most recently created retention ponds when they expanded the roadway. And the good news is that I saw the maintenance crew and they didn’t chop them down ;)
    Loret recently posted..Condo living for bluebirds?

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