Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Counting Cattails: Frogs, Bogs and Holiday Cheer!

final one againBy Melissa Mullineaux, Intern, ASWM

While working with the Association of State Wetland Managers this year through the autumn holiday season, I have come to think about wetlands and their role in America’s holiday culture. What I have found is that the magnificent, mysterious, exciting and sometimes eerie wetland plays a very large role in holidays—from Halloween, to Thanksgiving and even into Christmas.

I am sure we have all seen and heard our fair share of wetlands in relation to Halloween. For instance, Halloween is known for its use of nature and animals to depict a scary scene. Often times owls, bats, pumpkins, snakes, spiders, and dark branchy trees—with haunting and glowing animal eyes peering out of them—are the images that society has come to adopt as the face of All Hallows’ Eve. Let’s face it, it’s all swampland material! Halloween is the time of year when swamp monsters come out. You know, like the creatures from the black lagoon and the swamp things.

swamp1111016But now that Halloween has passed, and Thanksgiving is approaching, I found that wetlands play a role in this holiday, too. One such instance, in particular, involves the cranberry bog. Today, cranberry sauces, relishes, and jams have officially become staples of a traditional Thanksgiving meal and are never forgotten next to turkey111016turkey, mashed potatoes and green beans on the Thanksgiving table. Cranberries are also sometimes used in homemade stuffing! Cranberries are harvested in the fall, so it is no wonder that they have become such an integral part of our Thanksgiving meals and are even used right through into our Christmas spreads.

In fact, in her blog entitled “From the Bog to the Thanksgiving Table,”  Leah Stetson informs her readers that “the cranberry is a native American wetland plant that is grown in open bogs and marshes from Newfoundland to western Ontario and as far south as Virginia and Arkansas. Massachusetts is the leading producer (with about half of the total U.S. crop), followed by Wisconsin and New Jersey. The berries are harvested in October just in time for Thanksgiving.”

Stetson also discusses that cranberries were once harvested naturally by Native Americans along the sides of rivers and in natural bogs but today most cranberries come from commercial cranberry bogs that are “typically placed in areas where there is a perched water table with cranberry111016cedar swamps and peat bogs.” This is done because these areas produce tannins and organic acids for the soil that is vital for cranberry production. The U.S. uses a lot of cranberries for juice all the yearlong, but during the holiday season, many of them get harvested to accompany the holiday meals. It is important to note, however, that this process has negative impacts  on wetlands because the cranberries call for a large amount of water and the soil requires a “particular pH balance.” Due to the large demand for this berry they are mass produced so we may want to think about choosing a sustainable cranberry producer to buy our preserves from this holiday season.

Other items that you may find on your Thanksgiving and Christmas meal tables are pumpkin pie, butternut squash, string beans, mashed potatoes, and wine. Interestingly, while doing research for this blog, I came across actual instances where the fruits and vegetables used for these dishes have in fact been grown in wetland environments. For instance, Wood, Dixon and McCartney (2013) consider shallow wetlands particularly conducive in supporting food production. They discuss two examples of dambos in Africa that support crops including a variety of “pumpkin, squash, maize…tomatoes, onions, cabbage and beans,” as well as “sugar cane, rape, mustard, green beans, tomatoes, Irish potatoes and bananas.”  These instances are rare, sure, but it amazes me how much wetlands are capable of!

winery1110106Now, what is better to drink at the holiday table than wine? One family in the Sonoma Mountain wine region has constructed wetlands on their winery land that captures and filters the winery’s wastewater. The water is then able to be reused to irrigate the vineyards. The new wetlands have increased the winery’s biodiversity, helped reduce erosion and provide habitats for wildlife. I’d like to give thanks for this winery this Thanksgiving. What an innovative move for a Sonoma Mountain winery to make!

So, when you’re at the Thanksgiving and holiday table, eating your tasty holiday feasts, remember some of these interesting facts about wetlands and how they relate to some of the food on your table. This may even make interesting party conversation. As for me, I’ll be contemplating how nice it would be to count the cattails on that constructed wetland while sipping wine. Happy Holidays!

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