The beautiful Cattail dinnerware design was sold by many companies in the 1930’s and 40’s, most notable Sears and Roebuck, Universal Pottery and Hall China. Its striking Chinese red colored blooms on an ivory background made it a
bestseller.Although collectible and used for display, what is more important is that it immortalizes a remarkable wildflower that has myriad uses along with medicinal properties.
The Cattail is of the genus Typha (T. latifolia) and grows throughout the United States in wetlands or any soil that remains saturated, therefore; it may be seen growing densely in ditches, rivers, streams and ponds. Like most primitive plants its male pollen and female bloom spikes grow separately with the brown cigar shaped seed head being the female. The Native Americans had a hundred uses for Cattail among them weaving the plants hemp fibers, fishing line, mats for sitting and burials, coverings for wigwams, shoes, dolls and baskets. It is recorded that the wigwam coverings were so well crafted that not a single drop of rain entered even during a torrential downpour. Also called “bulrush”, it boasts many edible uses depending on the season and has been called a “wild supermarket” ¹ or four season plant.
Photo courtesy of Aquaplant Universal Cattail Teapot
In early spring the new roots or corms may be dug up and peeled and eaten in salads or stews. Later when the male and female shoots appear they may be shucked and eaten much like corn and are said to be delicious.² Later, in the summer, the male head will develop powdery pollen which can be shaken into a jar and used with flour in breads cakes and as thickener.
In addition when the plant starts to toughen the roots produce a starch which contains gluten, the mainstay of wheat bread and which can be harvested and eaten like potatoes up until the following spring. As if this were not enough, this incredible wildflower also has medicinal properties. Its roots have been used as an antiseptic for burns, insect bites, and toothaches. Its seeds have a downy coating that is used as stuffing in bedding and pillows and its cigar shaped heads have been dipped in oil and used as torches.
With so many uses and applications, it is not remarkable that this wildflowers’ design would be chosen as décor for pottery. What is amazing is that it has not been even more properly revered. So the next time you are out “roughing it” look for a cluster of Cattail as this is truly a survivalists’ food stuff.
Of the many popular decals used on vintage dinnerware and one of the most sought after are the Mexican designs. Brightly colored in orange reds and greens, the details of the designs almost always feature a cactus tree. Called Tia Juana, Sleeping Mexican and Mexicalli among other design names, the cactus most often featured is the Saguaro Cactus (Cereus giganteus). It is striking and immediately noticeable in the landscape. Usually seen in dry areas it is a symbol of the Southwest and its night blooming blossoms are Arizona’s state flower.
Tall and stately the Saguaro grows from 50 to 75 feet and will hold a ton of water in its arms which take 45 to 75 years to sprout. Saguaro blooms in May and June from the top of its stem and is cross pollinated by bees and bats. It is an important part of its desert ecosystem in that its fruits feed the desert animals and wildlife and it provides a shady home for many birds. Considering that it can live to be over 200years old but is very slow growing, about an inch a year, this fact has put the Saguaro on the endangered list and Arizona actually has laws pertaining to moving or harming them. Popular in art and design its symbol adds a great touch to kitchen décor.
Orange/Apple Tree Tulip Pattern
The 1930’s saw the production of a dinnerware line called Kitchen Kraft produced by the Homer Laughlin China Co. With very few exceptions it featured a host of floral designs that are still very popular today. With Frederick Rhead as the designer, this heavy duty ware is suitable for table or oven, some is even embossed with the design, instead of fired on, and hand painted. The floral decals are too numerous to mention but shown are some of the more popular floral designs.
3.Permission to use Aquaplant Cattail photo given by Michael P. Masser, Ph.D.
Professor and Extension Fisheries Specialist
Interim Associate Department Head and Program Leader
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences , President of the World Aquaculture Society http://aquaplant.tamu.edu/database/emergent_plants/cattail.htm