Tules, along with Cattails
, are the extremely abundant marsh vegetation
seen in many areas of California
. Tules are distinguished from cattails
by their spongy
stems and their tassel-like flowers and seedheads. At one time, these plants filled huge areas of the Central Valley
of California, standing seven feet height and so thick they are impassable without a machete
. Although many of these wetlands have been lost, there are vast areas where Tules still can be seen covering acres and acres of moist land. Often in the winter, these low, moist areas are filled with a dense, cold fog called Tule Fog
which settles in amongst the reeds.
Although tules seem thick and impenetrable, they are ecologically quite important and diverse. They are an important habitat for birds - many waterfowl nest in these areas. Amphibians such as frogs are also abundant here. The Native Americans used these plants to weave baskets and make houses. And, by taking up nitrogen and impurities very effectively, these plants act as a huge sponge filter, removing pollution and excessive nitrogen from the riparian systems of California. They are so effective at this, they are even sometimes used in sewage treatment systems along with cattails.
When someone lives far from society, they are sometimes said to live 'in the tules' because the tules were representitive of 'backwater' areas. Now, they line many irrigation ditches and streams near agricultural areas, as well as in wildlife preserves.