October 28th-November 24th is the month associated with reeds in the Celtic tree calendar. Perhaps it seems odd that reeds count as trees, but they do form flexible hollow canes (like bamboo) , and they are also quite tall (the common reed Phragmites australis grows to about 4m).
At this time of year the seed heads wave in the wind – they have a very soft and almost furry texture, and the leaves on the reeds are beginning to turn yellow, dying back for the winter.
Reeds have been very useful to humans for a long time. They are still used for thatching roofs, a tradition which probably goes back to prehistoric times. They are used for making wicker goods like baskets and fishing traps. Reeds are also used for making musical instruments (the ‘reed’ in most wind instruments is indeed made from a reed!). In medieval times Reeds were used for strewing on the floor along with other fragrant herbs. All of these uses gives clues to the character of the reed: flexible, protective, and musical.
One of the more modern uses of reeds is in waste water treatment. Research has shown that reedbeds are an effective, reliable, sustainable and economical water treatment method. Reedbeds are now planted to treat waste water onsite both on a domestic and commercial scale across the UK.
Reedbeds are also an important habitat for wildlife – birds, fish, small mammals like the water vole, dragonflies and other insects. Across the UK, up to 40% of reedbed habitats were lost between the years of 1945 and 1990. Reedbeds are therefore considered a nationally scarce habitat and are a priority habitat for conservation in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Where I live, near the Thames and the River Mole, we would have had a lot of reed beds in the past, but nowadays there are just a few left on local ponds and rivers.
The other day I went to visit the local reed bed, and I sat for a while by the waters edge, surrounded by reeds. I felt I could hide in the reeds if I wanted to, and also that they would be good for keeping me dry (which is a bit odd since they grow in the water).
They swayed in the wind, and whispered to each other as the wind blew through them. According to The Celtic Meaning of the Reed the Celts viewed this as an otherworld voice, and considered it a message of powerful importance.
I shall be investigating more!