Cattail

Typha

Photo: Nancy Turner

APPEARANCE

Cattails are characterized by their small brown flowers and long blade-like leaves. Cattails reach heights of 3-10 feet tall.

RANGE & HABITAT

Cattails are common in wetlands, a type of habitat known for being flooded with water at least part of the year. They grow and thrive in freshwater with low salt content.

LIFE CYCLE

The brown round flower of a cattail plant is actually the female flower. Cattails also contain a male flower which pollinates the female flower. Specifically, pollen which contains the males’ reproductive material migrates to the female flower usually around the summer solstice, which occurs halfway through summer. After pollination, the male part of the flower dies and falls off.

Once pollinated, the female flower eventually blooms into its brown cylindrical shape that somewhat resembles a cat’s tail. These blooming female flowers produce thousands of seeds, and slowly turn white and fuzzy. The seeds are spread throughout the ecosystem by wind and animals such as birds which feed on the cattail.

ANIMAL USES

Cattails provide both food and shelter for animals. Many animals including beavers, muskrats, some fish species and Canada geese eat cattails.

TRADITIONAL USES BY INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

Some First Nations peoples sew cattails together for making mats, bags, baskets, or even tents. The stems and leaves of cattails sewn together to make paper and cloth.

The entire plant is edible and is a traditional food source.

OTHER USES

Cattails are often used as decorative plants. Non-Indigenous people have also historically used the cottony fluff from the plant to stuff bedding.

STATUS

COSEWIC: Not at Risk

CDC: Yellow

PHOTO: Alicia Pimental/Chesapeake Bay Program