STATION 2.  TULE OBSERVATION

Muskrat Creek bends around the gazebo and joins Mission Creek.  This area contains abundant tules or hardstem bulrush, native and  non-native blackberry, and Baltic rush

The tule is a rush,  with a characteristic round hollow stem.  They provide an important cover and nesting places for waterfowl, songbirds, raccoons, and muskrats. 

The tule seeds are a source of food  for those animals as well early people.  The Ohlone cooked the new shoots and ground the seeds into meal.  The roots were ground into mush.  Flour was  made  from its pollen which they would make a pancake type bread. 

Tule houses were common in many parts of California.  Tules stems can be braided into a strong rope.  Tules were interwoven into a framework of willow poles to create dwellings that were well insulated and rain proof.  Canoes of tule stems bound together with vines could be used for hunting and transportation.  Shredded tules along with cattails were used for diapers and bedding.  Ohlones also used them to make sleeping mats,  dolls, toys, and baskets.  Early nursery owners in the Fremont area used tules to protect flowers during shipment. 

Although there are two native tules in California, the dominant species at Stivers is the hardstem bulrush (Scirpus acutus Bigelow).   The California bulrush  (Scirpus californicus Meyer)  has more spikelets than the hardstem bulrush and a more triangular stem. 

             LESSON.  Identification of tules -  Ask the students to locate the tules or hardstem bulrush.  Point out the thin stems and the spike at the top.  Take a tule  (only two per class) and cut it in several pieces so the students can see the hollow  structure of the stem.  They might want to put this in a plastic bag that they are using for a scavenger hunt.  Airspaces make the tules an excellent material for boat making.  The lightness helped it to float.  Notice the waterproof covering of the stem that important to shed water on the roofs of their homes.  During the winter tules  dry out and become dormant.  During the fall it is OK to cut the tules and have the students try and braid them, or twist them into cord.  

             LESSON.  Contrast blackberries with poison oak - There are both native and non-native blackberries in the area.  Contrast the  5-leaflet Himalayan blackberry (non-native) with the 3-leaflet native blackberry.  The non- native is very aggressive and needs to be cut back in this area to allow native vegetation to grow.

Point out to students the difference between poison oak and the native blackberry leaves.  Go over the shape by showing examples.  During the fall, the poison oak will turn reddish and is easy to identify.  The vines however can be recognized by their thin stem and shots that are arranged in a spiral manner.  The blackberries in this area keep their leaves throughout the year, but the vines are thorny unlike the poison oak. 

            LESSON.   Historic Importance of  tules to local people - Discuss with students the importance of tules to the Ohlone Indians.  Go over the properties of tules (light, rope like, easy to cut, waterproof) and have the students think of ways in which the tules could be used.  Donít forget to show the students the spikes which the Indians used as flour to make food. 

            LESSON.   Habitats created by tules -  Not only did people use the tules,  but they provided habitat for wetland organisms.  Tules  provide protection from predators as birds and small animals hide in them and food for different animals.  Ask students to describe the wetland habitat, including the mud and stems.  Go over the different organisms that might hide in the tules and what they would do there. If you have hand lenses or microscopes you may want students to look at the tules under the microscope and maybe take samples of the water.

            LESSON.   How tules clean water - Tules clean the water as they take up nitrates and phosphates from the water.  The rhizomes  (root structure) are saturated with water all the time, so it successfully filters pollutants from the water and incorporates it into the stems. 

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