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Scientific Classification
  • T. angustifolia (narrowleaf cattail)
  • T. domingensis (southern cattail)
  • T. ×glauca
  • T. latifolia (broadleaf cattail)

Cattails are a group of monocot flowering plants belonging to the taxonomic genus typha. They have a long, thick fruit which looks like a cattail, from which they get their name. It is distributed worldwide including Europe, Asia, and America. All states in the U.S. have at least one kind of species. Because it is so easily to get, native Americans used it as a food, medical purpose, and household material.


Typha latifolia

Cattail is an aquatic or semiaquatic perennial.[1] It is usually 1 to 3 meters(m) tall and 1 to 2 centimeters(cm) diameter. From each vegetative shoot, 12 to 16 leaves grow up. These leaves are flat, erect and linear with a D shape. It is .85 to 2 cm wide and 1 to 3 m tall. [2] Its leaves are usually the same or a little short than the length of the stem.[3] Cattail has a 7 to 13 cm long staminate part above a dark brown pistillate part which is 2.5 to 20 cm long. [4] From each staminate part, there are over 1,000 flowers. Male and female spikes are separated in length of 1.5 to 4 cm.[5] Its fruit is a tiny and tufted nutlet which is 1.2 to 3.5 cm thick with white hairs around surface. [6] The rhizomes of cattail are very stout, tough and extensive. It grows horizontally 7.6 to 10 cm below the surface and some time under water.[7] It grows up to 70 cm long and .5 to 3 cm in diameter. [8]


There are two ways for Cattail to reproduce which is by seeds and by rhizomes. Vegetative reproduction is done by an extensive rhizome system. [9] The cattail is a plant that has male and female flowers born on the same plant, monoecious. To make cross pollination possible, female flowers mature first before male flowers. After cattails bloom flowers, it can produce 117,000 to 268,000 seeds for each spike and 18 cm long for each 10 seeds. In the experiment from University of Arkansas, the cattail blooms flower when only the root wasn't submerged. The team from U.A. concluded that self shading in dense stands inhibits flowering. It also depends on the depth of submerging. When it submerged under 15 cm of water, 33% bloom, and under 50 cm of water, 11% bloom.

The seeds spread out easily by wind, water, and other system. Achenes have a little and tiny hair around surface which allow fruits to float on the water. It is light and only weighs 0.05 mg. It is also dispersed by wind, especially when the fruits are dry, the skin and hair of achene start to break down and burst. Then the fruits are transported by wind. In a 10 km per hour wind seeds can fly in distance of 46.9 m and it fall at wind speed, 0.13 miles per second. [10] Then when the fruit have contact with water, skins burst more rapidly and release the seeds. [11] Lastly it also can be transported by human or animals. When the seeds fall down to mud and the mud clings to human or animal it disperses but not all the seeds succeed on dispersion. [12] For the seeds to germinate there are certain condition that needs. It should be wet and moist with low oxygen concentration and also long day and short night which is summer. It requires very high temperature and at temperature 77° to 86°F is best temperature to germinate and 86 to 89% of seeds germinate. But this is condition only works for northern latitudes. In southern latitudes, it requires only temperature, light, and oxygen in shallow water. [13]


Bursted fruit release seeds

The cattail can live in almost everywhere so it distributes in North America, Central America, Great Britain, Eurasia, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. Cattail usually lives near by ponds, lakes, rivers, streams and marshes where wet and moisture place is all the seasons and where the water depth never pass 6.35 cm. [14] Cattails can tolerate precipitation of 4 to 40 dm each year and temperature of 6 to 28° [15]. Most cattail live in freshwater but few species lives in little salty marshes. We can determine the species by depth of place where they live. Most common cattails live in shallow water but narrow leaf cattails live in deep water. Cattails tend to grow in high organic matter soil on surface than texture mineral soil. Some rhizomes grow under water where they can be safe from the fire. When the part of the that is above ground, is burned by fire, the undamaged rhizomes can make new top-growth. But when the soils all dry out because of drainage and drought, organic matter which plants needs to survive can burn off together and kills plant. [16]

Other uses

Cattail, are important in human society. In autumn, people harvest their roots as a food. They can roast or boil it and eat it. Abenaki Indians extract the juice from the rhizomes. They also eat raw or pickled sprouts. Paiute Indians eats almost every part of the plant includes flower stalks, pre-pollen, raw or boiled or steamed. Flower stalks tastes like olives and artichokes. [17] It is also used as household goods. For example, it is used at thatch for roofs of homes. Also, the leaves can be woven to make chairs and hats. Also it is used as a greenish brown paper. Because pollen is easily burn and burst, people used in making fireworks. [18] It is also used for medical purposes. When people gets wounded, it is good to put rhizomes on the wound because it works as a salve and stops the bleeding. Cattail are not only useful to human but also small animals. Cattails gives a habitat and food to small animals. Cattails are good food for Deer and elk and also they can hide themselves from predators. Some Northern Indians use leaves and roots to make tea for treating stomachache. Sioux Indians mix cattail fruit and coyote fat to treat smallpox sores.[19]