Simplestem Bur Reed
Federal Noxious Weed in Oregon
It's August 14, 2004, and this year I'm into some serious papermaking. I've been studying the flowers of the Klamath Basin for two years - taking photographs and learning which flowers are noxious weeds or invasive plants. This plant is on the Federal Noxious Weeds list for Oregon. My lucky day. I harvested an armload or two of the green leaves along with an equal amount of last year's winter retted leaves. Next I will be chopping it up and cooking it. The green leaves are similar to iris and grass, so I'm working with the assumption I won't have to cook more than an hour or so and I'll be able to use my kitchen blender to make the pulp with.
While harvesting I didn't really have a choice to skip last year's leaves as they were thick about the feet of this year's growth. In order to cut the plants as close to the waterline as possible I had to pull or cut the detritus to find them. Oh, break MY heart! *crooked grin* I used my mostly sharp pocket knife to cut the plants and they were easily sliced. The closer to the base, the easier it was to cut. I was able to get an ample armload of both in short order. To view my page of pictures documenting this plant, go to my Scientific Index and look up Sparganium erectus. Please do not bookmark the Sparganium page as I move my photos and pages around regularly. My index will always be the same, though.
The stand of bur reed I was working with was growing mixed in with Flag iris, another weed here in Oregon. I had to stand there and study the two for quite awhile before I was able to discern the difference in foliage. The shapes of the leaves were very close and it ended up being the color difference: flag iris leaves are blue-green while the bur reed are yellow green.
August 25, 2004. I figured this plant would be too soft to feed into my chipper/shredder, so I slapped some of the green stalks onto my new table in my new Studio O and whacked away with a butcher knife. Worked like a charm. Only problem is the leaves are nice and light, quite airy (see picture in upper right) with all the air pockets as can be seen above. When I chopped, the pieces flew everywhere and with any wind, they skittered off like errant kittens. I chopped away anyhow and swept up the pieces to fill a large pot. Amazing how it doesn't take much to fill a big old pot. I set this pot aside for when I have more time to cook the pieces.
August 27, 2004. Time to cook!! Working on the assumption this plant would be similar to grass, I filled the pot with water and left out the washing soda. Three hours later, it's still stubbornly unviable. *sigh* So I venture into town tomorrow and buy some more washing soda, maybe some lye as well. Like all plants when you begin to cook, the pieces float to the top of the water until they get hot enough to become saturated. Because this plant has so many air pockets in it, it stays pretty much on top unless you have lotsa water for it to move around in!! I made the mistake of filling the pot 3/4 full, so don't have much room for extra water. Keeping it at a simmer just barely below a boil is also necessary with this plant as it loves to leap over the sides when the water boils even gently.
August 29, 2004. Cooking's done. Man, what an adventure!! But once I added the Arm & HammerŪ washing soda, the burreed broke down in record time. I had left the pot in plain water on the stove until I could get back to it. I know this helped some. Four hours is all it took to get the fibers to pass the finger test where I grip each end of a piece of the plant with my index finger and thumb and pull gently, but firmly across the grain to see if it breaks. The pot yielded a gorgeous brown dye once I added the washing soda. While the burreed was cooking in just water, the leaves maintained their original color. With the washing soda, they dye leapt out in great quantities and dyed the leaves almost black! This is going to be a gorgeous paper to put bleached pulp on top of! I don't think I'm going to bleach any of it!
I poured the burreed out of the pot into a five gallon paint bag and rinsed ad nauseum for about ten minutes. I was despairing if I would ever get all the dye out when I decided to look at the rinse water closely. The brown I was witnessing was not dye, it was fiber! So I stopped rinsing immediately and gently but firmly pressed as much of the water out of the pulp as I could. I learned early on on my papermaking adventures that pressing hard with zeal breaks the paint bag.
When I bagged the cooked fiber for later pulp processing, I found it had been partially processed just by my massaging it during the rinse. I find this very encouraging as an indicator my theory about this fiber being blenderable.
Final note: While I needed to use washing soda to break down the lignins in the plant, the smell was quite pleasant. I was cooking indoors and noticed it was a delightful "green" scent, much like fresh mown grass.
October 2, 2004. Set up in Studio O to pour and pull some paper. I wanted to make larger pieces of paper and had read on the Papermaking Yahoogroup about folks using condiment botytles to do so and figured I'd give it the old college try. I pulled the cooked burreed fiber out of the bucket and whirled it in the blender for about two minutes for each load. I poured directly from the blender to the condiment bottle and squirted it onto the window screen I propped up. The fiber was very thin and gooey looking just like the Brandy Bottle was. This appeared to be mostly gunk so I blendered the rest of the cooked fiber and put all of it into a paint bag. I rinsed until the water ran clear and was left with a delightful and coarser fiber. The rinsed fiber was easily mushed and holding together well, so it shows promise for sculpting with. I lightly pressed some into my palm so I would get a small handful and used this size as my measurement for adding pulp into the condiment bottle. The first sheet I squirted onto the screen and slapped onto my post lacked enough fiber to resemble paper. I rolled that all back up and dumped it back into the pile of pulp. The second sheet I loaded two handsful into the condiment bottle and did battle with it. The water runs out of the bottle faster than the pulp and requires a squirt-squirt-shake-shake rythm. Once I figured out the correct pulp to water ratio, I was able to do the rythm more easily and get better control of the pulp being squirted. I made the second sheet quite thick. This was another instance of slapping the pulp onto the post (I use retired cotton sheets) and then rubbing the screen with my hand to squeegee the water off.
I finally gave up on the condiment bottle and decided to dip the rest of my paper. I use window screen without a frame because I like uneven sheets, but I've figured out how to get thin, even sheets with the screen as well. I stir the vat up, dip the screen almost to the bottom of the vat, wait a heartbeat for the pulp to settle then slip the screen out quickly on a tilt. If the pulp doesn't cover it all, I simply swoop the screen through again until it does. It is so thin I end up double couching to get the paper thick enough. I slapped the screen, pulp facing down, onto the wet post and roughly squeegeed the screen with my hand a few times and then peeled it up like opening a book. If any pulp tried to stick to the screen, I squeegeed the back of the screen with my hand as I peeled. If the pulp got really stubborn, I placed the screen back down, spritzed it with some water, squeegeed again and pulled the screen up.
The paper is still outside drying. When I get back out into Studio O to pull some more paper, I will put this into the vat instead. Seems to me it will probably be more compliant using the pull method of sheet forming.
March 25, 2005 - I've been playing with bur reed for a couple months now. I pulled some overwintered leaves from the pile in Studio O, chopped them into small pieces and put them into a five gallon bucket with water and bleach to make them lighter. Didn't work after a couple hours, so I left them overnite. Peeked the next day and nope. No change at all. Drained them, refilled with a stronger solution of bleach to water and left them for a month. Nope. Not a single piece turned lighter. Okay. Next step.
I blendered the pieces into a pulp one handful at a time for about 45-60 seconds per whirl. The resultant pulp was so tempting to play with, but no!! I'm on a mission here. I need light papers for the translucency for ,making lamps. I put on my kitchen rubber gloves and drained the pulp, squeezing out every possible drop of water I could mash out, gently but firmly so I wouldn't pop my paint bag. Then I poured some water and bleach into a five gallon bucket and plopped the cowpatty-like puck into it. Stirred until I had a lovely slurry and popped the lid on it.
March 26, 05 - SUCCESS!! - I about fell over backward with surprise and jubilation. I stirred it and some of the pulp was still dark, so I replaced the lid and left it.
March 28, 05 - Checked the bucket and it was sweet!!! Almost all of the fiber is light! Life is GOOD. Put on my gloves, poured the pulp from the bleach bucket into another bucket lined with a 5 gallon paint bag. Pulled the netting out and drained the bleached pulp. I rinsed thoroughly, pressed out all the water I could and dropped the resulting patty of pulp into another bucket.
This bucket had tap hot water with a couple good glugs of white vinegar in it. Why white? It's all I had on hand. The dark vinegar works just as well. I stirred for awhile and then poured the pulp into another bucket lined, once again, with the paint bag. I pulled the bag out and put the pulp immediately under the faucet and rinsed thoroughly. I rinse until I can no longer taste the vinegar. Yes, I "drink" from the outside of the bag. I drained and pressed as much of the water out of the pulp as possible and bagged and tagged it. I am now ready to pull paper for making lamps!
March 29, 05 - Tried to pull paper with just the bur reed with some seedpod and unpulped iris leaf to no avail. Added an equal amount of the bleached cattail and things began to improve. If worse comes to worse, I can always whir up some typing paper and add that to the vat.
Klamath Falls Flowers
Whidbey & Fidalgo Island Flowers
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Copyright 1998-2008 Colleen D. Bergeron.
Last revised: November 14 2008