Thatch can be defined as any vegetation used to roof a structure. The vegetation is gathered, bundled, and secured to a framework on top of a building. Thatch functions both as a shingle and underlayment; very rarely is there anything beyond simple framework between the thatch and the inside of the structure. For that reason, thatchers have to understand the qualities of the thatching material they use - its value as insulation and, particularly, its ability to withstand snow, wind, and rain.
The two most common types of European and American thatch are straw and reed. Both are tried-and-true choices and each brings slight different qualities to a completed roof. They are not, however, the only materials suitable for thatching. Thatched roofs appear on every continent except Antarctica, and thatching materials rage from plains grasses to waterproof leaves found in South American rainforests or on South Pacific islands.
European thatch dates back to before the Middle Ages, when the first small, permanent villages were established. The creation of villages brought with it the need for readily available, inexpensive, and durable building material. One of these materials was thatch. Early settlers to the New World used thatch as far back as 1565, but Native Americans had already been using thatch for generations. When settlers arrived in Jamestown in 1607, they found Powhatan Indians living in houses with thatched roofs. The colonists used the same thatch on their own buildings.
Today, thatch is generally acknowledged for its visual appeal and as a way to add a historic or whimsical touch to a home. While it does impart a storybook quality to many structures, thatch also retains the practical aspects of its past. In addition to its beauty, one of its best qualities is its ability to act as an effective insulator. And believe it or not, repairing a thatched roof is much easier than you would think. In addition, today's thatched roofs benefit from the efforts of modern science - they can be made fire retardant. In recent years, thatch has been gaining popularity because of the current trend towards using more natural building materials.