You have seen them in marshes, along the edges of lakes and rivers and even in ditches. What you probably do not know is that cattails play an important ecological role. They provide important habitat for birds that nest between them and for aquatic insects and young fish. Their rhizomes (i.e. roots) are an important food source for many animals such as geese and muskrat. They also act as biological filters, removing silt and organic pollutants from runoff. Unlike terrestrial plants that die if submerged in water, cattails have special adaptations to live in waterlogged soils. They have specialized air “channels”, called D-cells in leaves and aerenchyma in shoots and rhizomes, which allow air to travel from the leaves to the roots. Without these air “channels”, the aquatic rhizomes would not be able to obtain oxygen resulting in the death of the plant. Join me in examining this plant up close and discover their amazing adaptations.
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