Common Cattail,
Broad-Leaved Cattail

Typha latifolia
Family Typhaceae

* Flower spike brown, cigar-shaped, made of tightly packed seeds, on straight, stiff stalks. This is the female part of the plant.
* Male flowering spike a slender, fluffy "tail" of pale brown, which will disappear later in the summer. In this species, the tail touches the female spike, but some cattails have a gap between the two.
* Leaves erect and blade-like.
* Height: 3-9'.

Natural History:
* Habitat: Wet places, such as marshes and shallow edges of ponds. Cattails grow in dense stands.
* Range: Throughout the United States.
* Native.

* If you ever find yourself stranded in a cattail marsh, do not despair! Parts of the plant are edible for about half the year. In early spring, the peeled young shoots can be boiled like asparagus; in late spring, young flower spikes can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob; in early summer, the yellow pollen from the spikes can be made into flour, and in late summer the starchy roots can be boiled like potatoes. Plus, adhesive can be made from the stems, rayon thread from the "tails", oil from the seeds, and insulation and bedding from the soft spikes.

* A note for the aspiring Transcendentalists out there: To emulate Henry David Thoreau, pull a small tuft from the dark brown spike and watch as it expands into a downy handful. Thoreau used this little trick to demonstrate how tightly the seeds are packed into the spike.

* Cattails clone and form dense colonies from creeping rhizomes under the ground. New shoots appear on the runners and grow through the ground in early spring. One colony on Lake Erie expanded over 17 feet in one year! If you cut a leaf or flowering spike, note the spongy nature of these structures. The tubes allow air, and with it oxygen, to diffuse into the roots of the cattail, sustaining the roots and allowing decomposition immediately adjacent to the roots. Because waterlogged soils are often devoid of oxygen, this simple morphology allows the cattail to obtain nutrients and thrive where few other plants can grow.


Created by: Allaire Diamond and Jiasuey Hsu
Maintained by: Nick Rodenhouse
Created: July 31, 1998
Last Modified: November 21, 2008