poetry and prose about place

a place in the marsh

with 10 comments

For the last few weeks, as I drive by the ditches and wetlands on my way home from work, I am charmed by the way the bulrushes have burst and made their bountiful seed available to the winds. 

The heads of the bulrush (Typha latifolia L., also known as common cat-tail or masette in French) are usually neat and tidy cylinders of dark brown, held high on a sturdy stem.  At this time of the year, the seeds emerge in a copious fluff clinging to the brown seed-head like a beard, a lion’s mane or a furry hat.

When I was a child, we always called these plants ‘busby rushes’, presumably after the tall bearskin hats worn by the Queen’s Foot Guards in front of Buckingham Palace.  Actually a busby is not the correct name for the bearskin, but is a hat worn by Hungarian hussars, or the Royal Horse Artillary, a ceremonial unit of the British Army.

Our two usual species of Typha are distinguishable by their leaves.  Typha latifolia (broad-leaved cat-tail) has flat leaves.  Typha angustifolia (narrow-leaved cat-tail) has narrower leaves, convex on the back.


bulrush in December

            (Typha latifolia L.)


4:45 PM rush, the Marshlands

bus expels tired folk to familiar sidewalks

exhausts them in diesel cloud

a bulrush pushing its seed

to the wind in cold December

bearded and wise, fur hats and

ear flaps against the cold

breath expressed as icicles and rime


©  Jane Tims  2011


Written by jane tims

December 14, 2011 at 6:14 am

10 Responses

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  1. I see someone else has already mentioned this, but I’ll add to it — We used to call them “punks” too, lit for their slow burn and smokiness to drive away the mosquitoes. I recall someone making dolls by twisting the dried leaves. I spent a lot of time at the back of our pond visiting the cattails.

    I love the imagery of your poem. Your drawing is beautiful. 🙂



    December 18, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    • Hi Robin. I am definately going to try this at mosquito time!!! Thanks for your comment. Jane


      jane tims

      December 19, 2011 at 6:32 am

  2. Your poem brought to mind being dropped off of the school bus on my way home this time of year. Beautiful drawing!


    Barbara Rodgers

    December 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    • Hi Barbara. Thanks! I always think buses have more personality than other vehicles. Jane


      jane tims

      December 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm

  3. Excellent drawing and poem Jane.-Denis



    December 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    • Thanks Denis. I wonder if anyone has done a botanical-type illustration for Typha! Jane


      jane tims

      December 16, 2011 at 7:35 am

  4. I like the drawing – almost like musical notes!


    Sonya Chasey

    December 15, 2011 at 11:04 am

  5. For some reason we used to call them “punks” when I was a kid, and the smoke that came from lighting the ends of them was supposed to keep mosquitos away. Great sketch and poem Jane!


    C.L. Sostarich

    December 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    • Hi. That’s interesting and I wonder if it worked to keep the bugs at bay? I know you can also use parts of the plant as food and the pollen as a substitute for flour. Useful plant! Thanks for your comment, Jane


      jane tims

      December 15, 2011 at 6:33 am

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