Plants are wonderful creations (oops… sorry, everyone knows they evolved – albeit creatively and intelligently!) and their resource potential for us largely unappreciative and ungrateful humans goes far beyond their use as food. One of the more imaginative non-food uses I came across recently – courtesy of Richard Stout’s ‘How plants’ work’ blog – was use of ‘cattails’ as insulation.
Cattails – their common name in ‘American English’ – are members of the genus Typha (called reedmace – correctly – and bulrushes – erroneously – in ‘English English’, in the UK) and have been variously employed ‘cleaning wastewater at sewage treatment plants, for detoxifying soils, as raw material for handcrafted wickerwork, as means of nutrition and, in traditional medicine, as a healing plant for various illnesses’. Now busy bodies at Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft ( ‘the largest organization for applied research in Europe’) have used them to develop a ‘magnesite-bound insulation panel’. Apparently, the soft spongy tissue within the fibre-reinforced leaves makes for an extraordinarily stable material with an excellent insulating effect, which is also preserved in the finished products. The excellence of the panels’ fireproofing, soundproofing and heat insulation properties were demonstrated after trials in Nuremburg, and a patent is now pending. Catstails? Sounds more like the cat’s whiskers (or the bees’ knees – but hopefully not a dog’s breakfast… )!
[And if you‘re into ‘bushcraft’ and surviving off of the land, the information in this catstail-based video might one day save your life… – Ed]