Creature Feature: Cattail (Typha angustifolia)
By Emma Dean, CG Science Editor
Waving in the wind, these tall plants bring to mind the swishing tails of a meandering feline. Cattails grow to reach a height of about 10 feet and require a water source in order to thrive. While cattails can provide a habitat for fish and other wildlife, these plants are often considered a nuisance since cattails block the view of open water due to thick vegetation. Also, there is the concern that the plant will take over the water source and eliminate the biodiversity.
Cattails are well known culprits for out-competing with other plant species. Of the two common cattails, the broad-leaved variation, Typha latifolia, is native to the United States region unlike the invasive narrow-leaved Typha angustifolia. The narrow-leaved cattail is believed to have come to North America via the Atlantic seaboard from the dry ballast of European ships. These two variations of cattails have hybridized to create a third version.
In addition to being located in and around ponds, other favored environments include irrigation canals and drainage ditches. Cattails may become problematic for irrigated agricultural lands and managed aquatic systems. Cattails populate so frequently and extensively in part because of the fluffy seeds that develop from pollinated flowers but also through the root system which rests in the water it neighbors.
- Cattails are believed to be allelopathic which is means that they create and emit chemicals which block the growth of other plants.
- Other nicknames include cigars, candlewicks, punks and ducktails.
- The brown seed heads form between late summer and fall.
- Cattails are indeed edible and a staple in Native Americans’ diets. However, settlers ignored this abundant food source.