Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

November 10, 2008

Tape Grass is Good for You

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:59 pm

I’m willing to bet that your mother told you about celery and waxed poetic on how good it is for you. I’m also thinking that you ate the stuff, based on her recommendation,and actually enjoyed it as long as it was slathered with peanut butter. I will even hazard a guess that you still like it and eat it. This is all O.K., by the way, but I need to tell you that your mother kept you away from the “other” celery. She didn’t do this with any evil intention but did so out of ignorance. You see, no one reallycares or knows the truth about Water Celery. It happens to be good for you as well, but for different reasons.

Water Celery, a.k.a. Tape Grass or Eel Grass,lives its life pretty much out of sight because it is a submergedaquatic plant growing in expansive beds just under the surface. Boaters know it as a summertime fouler of props. Massive windrows of the strappy leaves roll up on shore after autumn storms (see here) and drape their rotting greenery over the beach sand and gravel. Detroit River/Lake Erie residents have a negativeopinion of the plantbecause of this. In truth, the water celery is one of the most important members of our regional flora and it would be a mistake to dismiss it as a mere nuisance.

With a name like Tape or Eel Grass, it’s no wonder moms don’t mention it to their children. No one really knows were the “Water Celery” name came from, but it is possible that a mom came up with it because it soundedbetter.The alternate names are better suited. The tape-like leaves of this plant are anywhere from 5 to 9 feet long and are about 1/2 inch wide. They undulate in gentle current much like their other slimy namesake.

In the above photo,I am holding a pair of mature water celery seed pods. These pods, looking for all the world like vanilla beans, deteriorate this time of year and discharge their cargo of seeds. The seeds are packed within aclear sticky gelatin that definitely does not remind one of vanilla (see here)! Earlier in the summer, the celery sent forth a flower capsule attached to long slender stalk several feet in length. Only the very tip of the flower broke the surface and created a dimple on the water. Micro male flowers, released from the base of other plants, floated on the surface and literally fell into the female flower and pollinated it. Once fertilized, the capsule was withdrawn into the deep by means of a corkscrew action of the stalk (see here an example).

All this is well and good, but the subject at hand is the relative merit of “goodness” forus humans. While eating the plant outright might be a last ditch survival move, the crucial value of this plant is as a food item for waterfowl. Ducks, especially divers such as Canvasbacks, Bluebills, and Redheads, depend on water celery for its high nutritive value – 19 species have been recorded consuming it. Canvasbacks are so dependent upon it that the second part of their scientific name, Aytha vallisneria, is the Latin word for Water Celery. The web-footed clan are eating the leafy greens and the so-called “winter buds,” or tubers, which remain after the leaves are shed (see one here in the lower center of this detail view).

Now, add to this the cover value for countless aquatic insects and the countless fish fry that eat those insects, and we have the makings of a V.I.P. (a veryimportant plant). What keeps naturehealthykeeps us healthy as well. Water celery is good for wildlife, the lake, and you – even without peanut butter.

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