Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cattails in Philadelphia

This picture was taken in Philadelphia. Not Philadelphia, Mississippi, where you might expect to find cattails, but Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More unusual, these cattails are growing in a moat around a fort.

I took this picture at Fort Mifflin. If you have flown into the Philadelphia airport and headed toward I-95 North, you may have seen a sign for Fort Mifflin. I have driven past this sign many times and wondered what was inside. My wife and I recently drove in to find out.

Fort Mifflin has been around for a long time. It was originally built by the British in 1771, and was used continuously by the military until 1952. It served a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War. It was occupied by Americans who held off the British Navy, so Washington and his troops could safely make their way to their winter encampment at Valley Forge. It was a prison for Confederate soldiers captured during the Civil War, and a munitions depot in World Wars I and II.

But back to that moat. It doesn't seem like much, only about 50 feet wide and a few feet deep. But I guess back in the day, that was enough to slow down an advancing army and buy you some time.

Today, the moat is home to all kinds of plants and animals. The cattails caught my eye because of an interpretive sign about their use by Native Americans. I knew that the fluffy seeds could be used as padding - we had played with these many times as kids. But I found out that the brown cylinder (the female part of the flower) could be eaten like corn-on-the-cob. In fact, every part of the plant including the roots and the pollen are edible. Who knew? And people still eat cattails - Google "cattail recipes" and see what you find.

If you are wondering what the fort looks like, here you go:


The unusual flag is a replica of the one flown during the Revolutionary War battle. It is one of the early flags of the Continental Navy or the Pennsylvania Navy (nobody seems to be sure). The photo above is one of the more flattering views of the fort. Much of it has fallen into decay over the years, like this cannon wheel:


But a dedicated group of volunteers is doing a great job bringing this key part of our American history back to life. Check out their website or visit the fort.

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