Oysters (top) form complex reefs where many aquatic species, such as fish and crabs, hunt for food and hide from predators. Wild celery is a preferred food of many waterfowl, which voraciously consume its winter buds and roots.
Roasted birds on the holiday table are often stuffed with a blend of breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices that includes chopped celery. Some stuffing recipes even call for chopped oysters, a briny bivalve that for centuries has been served raw on the half shell as a token of good luck in the coming year.
But did you know that oysters and celery also serve as important underwater habitats?
Oysters grow naturally on the bottoms of bays and rivers, and are also cultivated for food and pearls, in clusters called oyster beds. Over time, the mollusks’ rough, irregular shells form complex reefs where many aquatic species, such as fish and crabs, hunt for food and hide from predators.
Because they are filter feeders, oysters help keep the water clean, promoting the growth of underwater grasses such as wild celery (related in common name only to the crunchy stalks we stuff with cream cheese or peanut butter). Wild celery grows in the coarse, sandy soil of bays, rivers, and streams. Small fish and crustaceans are attracted to its long, ribbon-like stalks, which serve as nursery beds and provide abundant food for their young.
Wild celery is also a preferred food of many waterfowl, which voraciously consume its winter buds and roots. In fact, the scientific name of the canvasback duck, Aythya valisineria, derives from the scientific name of wild celery, Vallisneria americana.
As you celebrate the season, consider the diverse roles of oysters and celery. Far more than delectable treats on the holiday menu, they provide protective lairs and nutritious fare for our fragile and important aquatic communities.