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Sunday 8 May 2016

Cattail and Yellow Iris, I got it wrong.

I know the difference between these plants, I also know HOW to tell the difference between these plants. I eat cattail and I make things from yellow iris... but I got complacent...and I got it wrong and ended up with a blistered mouth and throat due to my complacency.

I often nibble on new growth cattail but recently when out I wasn't thinking and I grabbed a new growth 'cattail', I quickly peeled it and started eating it, but I knew right away that the texture was wrong, I quickly spat it out and checked to see that the plant I was holding was actually Yellow flag iris and not cattail, but the damage was done, my mouth and throat were burning, like I'd eaten very hot chillies and it stayed that way for 8 hours and I ended up with lots of little blisters on the inside of my mouth and throat, all due to the fact that I didn't take care or pay attention.. There's no excuse for it, I was stupid and I paid the price, but I will learn from it and I won't make the mistake again, sometimes we need a swift boot in the rear to bring us back to reality and make us realise we are getting too cocky, I will learn from it. 
so to help you guys avoid making the same mistakes I made here is how to tell the difference between the two.

The first ID is leaf colour and shape, Iris has an emerald green colour and a very pointed tip, cattail is blue green and a rounded or bullet tip leaf (Iris left, cattail right).

In cross-section at the base of the plant, iris is elliptical and cattatil is rounded..note the purple colour on the iris, this would be a dead give away if the colour were always present but it isn't so don't use that as your only method of ID.(Iris left, cattail right)

leaf shape of each leaf..iris is diamond and cattail a crescent.(Iris left, cattail right)

a slice along the plants, note the iris seems more solid in texture and is definitely noticeable when you bite into it !!! (Iris left, cattail right)

This is the structure of each leaf and this is my main method of ID but again I got cocky and didn't examine the leaves, note the very vertical lineage in the structure of the leaf..this is Iris

Not the crosshatched or honeycomed structure of this leaf, this is cattail and if you hold the leaf to the light and you see this structure you can be sure it's cattail.

and next to each other, Iris above cattail below.

I'm the first to admit I got it wrong and I'm not too proud to say I make mistakes, but show me a man who says he doesn't make mistakes and I'll show you a liar. Every day is a learning process and some days are re-learning processes but in the words of George Bernard Shaw..
"success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time"

So don't do what I did when you are in the bush, take your time, examine your wild foods and make sure you know what you're eating, don't get complacent.. complacency can kill.


  1. Very magnanimous to admit your mistake and post it. Thanks.

  2. Hopefully others will learn from it, Austin.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your error. Do you mind if I reference you in my blog?

  4. One of the better comparisons on the subject of these two plants..
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great photo comparisons. I'm trying to teach our vegetation management crews to distinguish between native cattails and yellow flag (invasive in California), and your photos are super helpful.

  6. Thank you! Your descriptions are very helpful!