Environment and Ecology


How do cattails help an estuary?

Scientists have long searched for a way to clean the pollutants in estuaries and other wetlands—and it may have been there all along in the form of the commonly seen cattail. These water-loving plants (Typha latifolia) are found growing in dense stands where shallow water or flooding is common, and unlike many other plants, they can live in water-saturated soils. The common cattail is found in most of North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa and provide an important habitat for wildlife—especially waterfowl and birds like the red-winged blackbirds. The plants have long been used as a food—roots, shoots, and even the pollen—for native peoples when food was scarce; as medicine, the roots being used to treat maladies and burns; and even as building materials. But more recently, scientists have been studying the plant to curb pollution: The cattails act as biological filters, removing silt, sand, and organic pollutants from runoff that flows into an estuary.


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