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Cattail as a crop


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Do you think cattails would be good as a crop today or as a founder crop for a civilization?

 

This is an ubiquitous plant that grows on shores more or less everywhere in Europe. All parts of the plant are edible at different periods of the year. The root is the most nutritious, 266 kcal/100 g from the wild variety.

 

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Anything that resembles a hotdog on a stick deserves some research into its potential.

Calories aside,  what is it's protein content, and what other nutrients does it have? 

Edited by TheVat
Tyop
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You would need extensive wetlands - in a time when water is unreliable: scarce in some places, overabundant in others. It's a large plant with a low yield: you'd need some generations to breed it or gene-splice it up to an economically feasible food crop. And if it were then cultivated in commercial quantity - and especially by the usual industrial methods, the wetland in which they now thrive would be trashed in no time.

However, North American natives did make extensive use of them both as food and material for making containers, boats and shelters. As part of a versatile diet, it could be extremely valuable for a new civilization of  humans - as long as their numbers were much, much smaller than the current one.

 

4 minutes ago, TheVat said:

Anything that resembles a hotdog on a stick deserves some research into its potential.

Unfortunately, that part has to be dried and pounded into flour (for the bun).

4 minutes ago, TheVat said:

Calories aside,  what is it's protein content, and what other nutrients does it have? 

The protein content is not high, but the shoots are green and the roots are sweet.

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48 minutes ago, Hans de Vries said:

More importantly it does not require any work other than harvesting. No need to plow the fields.

That's right; we can harvest it , take the roots, make them into flour and then next year...

 

No plant actually needs our "help".*

They were all doing fine before we arrived.

But, if  you want sustained yields of the sort that make things commercially viable, you need fertilisers and crop protection.
 

*There's a suggestion that avocados wouldn't survive without us

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Cattail was never farmed. We don't know what crop varieties would look like after several centuries/millenia of selective breeding. 

Just look how much domesticated varieties of wheat or corn look like compared to wild ones

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18 minutes ago, Hans de Vries said:

Cattail was never farmed. We don't know what crop varieties would look like after several centuries/millenia of selective breeding. 

Just look how much domesticated varieties of wheat or corn look like compared to wild ones

And look at how much more effort has to go into looking after them.

It's obviously possible to farm bullrushes.

I'm less sure it's worthwhile.

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Species grows well pretty much everywhere. I think that's part of why it had never been farmed(as far as we know). I would be concerned with manually harvesting the rhizome in warmer climates though.

Have been different projects looking into it. As a way to make use of marshy areas, especially with modern harvesting methods, could work out.

https://fensforthefuture.org.uk/creating-the-future/wetland-crop-typha

https://www.farmshow.com/a_article.php?aid=24375

https://northsearegion.eu/canape/paludiculture/typha/

 

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Has anyone looked into the matter of flavor, BTW?  There are many many plants that provide calories and are edible,  but humans don't bother with them because they have an unappealing taste.  (or only use them during a famine,  like Swedes who used to grind up certain tree barks)  

I note Endy's first link cites them as having potential for biofuel (made into combustible pellets,  say) but not being considered viable as a food.   Thanks for the links,  @Endy0816.  

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1 hour ago, TheVat said:

Has anyone looked into the matter of flavor, BTW?  There are many many plants that provide calories and are edible,  but humans don't bother with them because they have an unappealing taste.  (or only use them during a famine,  like Swedes who used to grind up certain tree barks)  

I note Endy's first link cites them as having potential for biofuel (made into combustible pellets,  say) but not being considered viable as a food.   Thanks for the links,  @Endy0816.  

Cattails are not bad tasting. All parts of the plant are tasty

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Commercially, it would face the same challenges as rice: large area, way too much water, in the open: subject to rapid evaporation, difficult to harvest, low yield, multi-purpose, thus has to be transported to different processing sites.

And the wetlands, of which we have few enough left, would be trashed, with incalculable eco-web collateral damage.

So, it will probably be done.

But we'd do much, much better with vertical and indoor farming of food plants that are already developed.

https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/chinas-indoor-farming-research-feed-cities-leads-world/409606/

However, bulrushes make an attractive and useful component of urban water reclamation projects.

Edited by Peterkin
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38 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Commercially, it would face the same challenges as rice: large area, way too much water, in the open: subject to rapid evaporation, difficult to harvest, low yield, multi-purpose, thus has to be transported to different processing sites.

I don't think that this is correct for rice. The water efficiency of a crop can be measured by the crop water productivity (CWP) which is given in kg/m3. A quick search for global CWPs indiate that the CWP is highly site-specific but for countries like USA, China and Philippines rice has a CWPs that are similar (and in some areas higher) than wheat but often lower than corn. I.e. it is at least somewhat comparable to the other main crops. I doubt similar data exist for cattails.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

Probably. But - why?

This would give an early civilization a boost. Today not so much although in the US large scale cattail faming was considered as late as ww2

Edited by Hans de Vries
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12 minutes ago, Hans de Vries said:

This would give an early civilization a boost.

It did help some early civilizations diversify their food base.

Whether it helps a post-apocalyptic new civilzation will depend on their circumstances. We don't know all that will happen in the sequelae of climate collapse, nor where on the globe the bands of survivors will have a chance to start over. 

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  • 4 weeks later...
3 hours ago, Hans de Vries said:

1. How far north does cattail grow?

There's lots in Alaska. I think, as far as water is liquid - it's a really hardy plant.

3 hours ago, Hans de Vries said:

2. I I put a great number of seeds in the ground without water, are there any chances that I get cattail growing on land?

Poor. I had some in a small pond, years ago. As the pond dried up, the bullrushes retreated. By the third year, they had all died out. It more commonly propagates through rhizomes, so you could dig some up from a roadside ditch to have a stand of them sooner. But they do need mud.

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On 9/18/2021 at 4:13 PM, Peterkin said:

There's lots in Alaska. I think, as far as water is liquid - it's a really hardy plant.

Poor. I had some in a small pond, years ago. As the pond dried up, the bullrushes retreated. By the third year, they had all died out. It more commonly propagates through rhizomes, so you could dig some up from a roadside ditch to have a stand of them sooner. But they do need mud.

Do you know whether cattails react well to organic fertilizer like dung or compost?

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3 hours ago, Hans de Vries said:

Do you know whether cattails react well to organic fertilizer like dung or compost?

No, I don't. It never occurred to me to add nutrients, since the ecosystem of a natural pond is self-fertilizing.

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