Pied piper of cats comes calling in Magnolia


Recently one morning, Michael B. Wright, 69, a tall, bespectacled Magnolia resident with shortish, curly white hair walked into the Upper Crust bakery on Magnolia and handed me a lumpy 10" x 13" manila envelope. It was addressed to: Emmy McDaniel.
(Our cat is now getting mail at the bakery?)
I didn't wait for Emmy's permission, an assuming parental authority, I went ahead and opened the envelope.
Inside, was a large white pill bottle, with a stick-on label that read: The Michael B. Wright Cat Pharmacy, Rx for Emmy McDaniel, U.S. Grade #1 Catnip. Take as needed. May cause drowsiness. User is cautioned not to operate heavy cat toys.
This was interesting, I thought, and although Wright is not connected to any veterinary, he quickly admits he's just distributing, hopefully, little bottles of kitty happiness. Catnip pleasantly stimulates cats' pheromonic receptors, typically resulting in temporary euphoria.
Some followers of herbal medicine claim that catnip tends to have a sedative effect on humans. There is, however, no scientific evidence to validate this claim.
When I opened the pill bottle I found that it was stuffed with fresh green catnip leaves. When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip, they may roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about and purr, or heavily salivate. Some will growl, meow, scratch, or even bite the hand holding it. Some cats will eat dried catnip. Often, eating too much can cause cats to be overtly aggressive, typically making them hiss.
About two thirds of cats are susceptible to catnip and something I found to be interesting is that the phenomenon is hereditary; for example, most Australian cats, being isolated as they are, do not react to it.
Emmy, we have since discovered, is mainly unaffected by catnip but will eat small amounts readily.
Over additional cups of coffee, Wright and I got into a further discussion about him being Dr. Feelgood to the neighborhood's felines. "I love your columns about Emmy," Wright told me, "so hopefully, she'll enjoy my little present to her. I look at myself as the Johnny Appleseed of Catnip."
To begin with, Wright's parents moved to Magnolia in 1935 and he grew up here. But like so many, he eventually moved away, only to return. It was in 1987 that he moved back and began growing catnip in his backyard, he's been retired since 2004.
"I started with Ed Hume's packaged catnip seeds," he told me, "it was kinda hard getting the first plants to grow, but once they got going they grew like the proverbial weeds. I've been raising catnip now for about 15-years."
"A catnip leaf," Wright further explained, "is about half the size of your palm, and the flowers are white, finely spotted with purple."
Right now there are about 30, three-foot high, grayish-green catnip bushes in Wright's backyard, and he told me and that he supplies catnip to about 150-175 satisfied feline clients.
Catnip, I have further learned, is a strong-scented perennial herb (Nepeta cataria) of the family Labiatae (mint family) native to Europe and Asia but now naturalized in the United States.
Besides making cats crazy, oil isolated from catnip by steam distillation is a repellant against insects, in particular mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites. Research suggests that in a test tube, distilled nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip, repels mosquitoes 10 times more effectively than DEET, the active ingredient in most insect repellents, BUT that it is not as effective a repellent when used on skin, sorry.
So, if you're rubbing yourself with catnip in an attempt to drive off mosquitoes, all you actually may be doing is establishing a line of happy cats following you down the street.
One of the attractions of writing this column is that you never know who you'll run into or what their story will be. Catnip farmers in Magnolia, who'd of thought?[[In-content Ad]]