top of page

Cats and Plants

Despite horrible cat related experiences in my youth, and even though I have a confirmed (although mild) cat allergy, I AM A CAT LOVER. Ailurophile is the technical term. In fact, I 'purr fur' their company, along with dogs and plants, to most humans. (More wordplay {pseudo-homophones} to come) We currently have four feline companions. Tiny Cat is pictured, but to purrvent my daughters from 'hounding' me for playing favs, the other three in our clowder are Pepper (a beautiful barking short-haired calico -- tricolor is an X chromosome condition so, if calico, must be female), Boca (a sweet, raccoon-gaited, somewhat larger version of Tiny), and Shorty (a smoky scaredy cat who has purrfected invisibility and gentle loving head butts). All are spoiled and spayed but not declawed; a barbaric practice. Our feline friends also have quite different purrsonalities, and they all have plants in their lives. I thought the connection (cats and plants) would be an interesting topic to purrsue, so here goes.

The most obvious cat related plant is catnip (Nepeta cataria) a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). A native of southern Eurasia, catnip long ago naturalized into northern Europe and North America. I have established it in several locations at our place. Catmint is a popular hybrid (Nepeta X). Catmint leaves are much smaller than the wild form and I find catmint does not get my girls as stoned, but there are online posts stating that some cats find them equally appealing. And when I say cats, I mean all cats, from domestic kitties to lions, but kittens less so, if at all, since the reaction, which can last for up to 30 minutes, is dependent on sexual maturity. The volatile oil (nepetalactone) acts like an artificial cat pheromone -- an aphrodisiac for cats. The appeal is genetic and only about two-thirds of cats have the intense attraction. For those pussies who want a buzz but are not affected by / attracted to Nepeta consider valerian (Valeriana officinalis) or silver vine / matatabi (Actinidia polygama). Both species can elicit a euphoric catnip-like response in some cats. Silver vine is a species of kiwifruit -- the dried fruit purrduces the high. I have read that some cats find the wood of the invasive Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica) appealing. It is on our bucket list. -- A little more background on the purrferred choice for my cats is in order. Catnip (1) makes a fine soothing tea, (2) is a sun-loving herbaceous purrennial (forb) that it is not very competitive -- easily shaded out by competition, and (3) the square-stemmed mint family is notorious for its weedy potential

Our Felis catus are indoor pets, but two of the girls (Pepper and Tiny) are brave enough to occasionally spend some supurrvised time outside on and near the patio. These sessions, which last from a few to 15 minutes, give them much needed stimulation. The other two beasts are content with the occasional windowsill or glass door TV-like purrfect view of the gardens and scary places beyond. I choose specific plants and locations to entice the birdies and chipmonkeys -- making it more big screen action theatre for our carnivore housemates. When outside the two adventurous girls sometimes like to mock stalk whatever critters are about, but they do not catch or kill. They are simply trying to satisfy a basic urge. Although highly skilled predators, our cats do not have to hunt. We feed them -- conditioning. I do find it interesting that the avian species most annoyed by the purresence of our cats (esp the calico) are cardinals. I also am convinced that merely walking through and on vegetation and bare ground provides a special purrimal pleasure for my furry pals.

Having confirmed that most cats are dopers, it likely will not shock you to learn they like grass -- graminoids to be both less and more specific. Anyone with a feline companion can attest to the fact that kitty occasionally will chew leaves. Why? The action often is to help expel undigestible material -- frequently hairballs formed from lick bathing. I am inclined to think that the chewing is sometimes just to torment, to get my attention -- look what I did and what are you going to do about it? More treats and pampering, of course. I wonder if the chewing is also a means for dietary supplementation -- cat salad, roughage and purrhaps (purr online discussion) to obtain certain essential compounds like folic acid (vitamin B9). Outside, the girls chew on various graminoids, especially several species of Carex -- with 151 Indiana species it is easily the largest plant genus in the state, almost all of them native. In winter months I will sometimes germinate a flat of oat (Avena sativa) seeds. Once offered, my cats quickly purrune the trayed mini lawn. While on the topic of grasses, grain and gluten-free packaging for cat food is largely a marketing gimmick. Food allergies are exceedingly rare in cats; most are purrsumed -- humans jump to conclusions too often. Grain-free / gluten-free is an imagined health benefit as regards cats. You may be surprised to learn that despite the fact we never see our kitties eat grain, cats (although carnivores) can digest most carbohydrates, thus grains can be and are added to cat food as a cost-effective source of energy and vitamins, plus gluten is proteinaceous (N and amino acids). Moreover, there is not necessarily a correlation between the price of the food and its quality. Again, marketing and our gullibility.

Several plants are poisonous to cats if ingested, but (unlike humans) cats and dogs seem to instinctively know what not to eat. However, I do not bring cut lilies (esp. Lilium) inside for display -- both because the dehiscing pollen is messy/staining and because, if ingested, lilies are poisonous to cats. Chapter 60 (Gardening with Children and Pets) in my Ranting book features a table of some Plants Poisonous to Pets. FYI An applied lemon juice hot pepper solution will dissuade cats from chewing on the leaves and digging in the potting soil.

During the growing season, one of the girls (Tiny) loves to play with clumps of path rush (Juncus) -- a resilient, dark green graminoid that grows in arching stands about one foot tall. Path rush is also commonly found on bare soil in flower beds. I try to use this native as an ornamental in various ways. See the above pic of path rush paying special attention to the subterminal fruit clusters just beyond Tiny's massive and lethal paw ;) Grass stems are round but hollow, except at the nodes. Rush stems are round, not jointed, and solid. The stems of the aforementioned sedge (Carex) are triangular in cross section, thus the phrase "sedges have edges." I leave a few clumps of path rush unmowed -- islands in the yard near the patio in which an unsuspecting but alluring insect might attempt to hide, or that serves as masking cover for my couch tiger, or that is fun and feels good to squeeze and purress. Tiny enjoys doing so and watching her frolic is a stress reliever. The accompanying adult beverage augments my relief. Path rush also is known as wire grass. An attempt to pull apart the stem, which has a white core, will validate the goodness of the name, and explain why and how the tufts can withstand the frequent mauling.

Cats have serious retractable claws. There is an obtuse plant connection here. The nails, unless occasionally trimmed, can cause unwanted pierce and snag damage to many things made from plants. -- I noted earlier that it is a barbaric to have your cat's claws surgically removed, it also all but ensures your pet would have little chance of surviving for an extended period outside.

Lastly, there are several large oaks on our purroperty. In autumn I roll or toss capless acorns attempting to get my cats to play chase (but rarely fetch) and soccer. Occasionally, Tiny will use the trunk of a small tree as a scratching/stretching post or to do a run and partial climb. Wild once again, if only for a few moments, then safely back inside for some food, a trip to the litter box, and more sleep. Wish I could sleep that easily, as well as that much.


bottom of page