Cattails are commonly found in many wetlands, but only the common cattail (Typha latifolia) and the hybrid (Typha x glauca) are native species to USA and occur in MI. Typha comes from “tufh” which mean “bulrush, cattail” (Rook 2002). Latifolia comes from the Latin word meaning “broad leaf” (Rook 2002). Cattails are placed in the family Typhaceae with all species having a common genus, Typha.
Native cattail species to USA that occur naturally in Michigan:
Typha latifolia L.à Broad-Leaved Cattail, Common cattail
Photo Courtesy of James L. Reveal and
USDA Plant Database.
Typha x glauca is considered a native species from the USA that resulted from a
cross between a native species (Typhus latifolia) and an introduced species (Typhus angustifolia) of cattail. It is either known as Hybrid or Glaucus Cattail (Rook 2002).
Typha latifolia x Typha angustifolia à Typha x glauca Godr.
(Common Cattail) (Narrowleaf Cattail) (Glauca Cattail)
Common cattails are herbaceous, perennial plants that are from rhizomes (USDA
Plant Database 2002). Cattails are monocots and their leaves are alternating and upright (Chadde 2002). The stem can range from 5 to 10 feet tall (Rook 2002). The heads of the female and male flowers are long, cylindrical-like, usually with a dark-brown color, with the male flowers above the female flowers. The male flowers have tiny spikes that are not separated by more than 3-4mm. The male portion is 5-15cm. long and 1.2-2cm. wide. The female flowers are 10-15cm. long and can be 2-3cm. wide when mature (Chadde 2002). Unlike the male flowers, the female flowers do not have bractlets. The fruit is only 1cm. long and has many white hairs.
Typha latifolia occurs worldwide: North America, Central America, Great Britain, Eurasia, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan (Rook 2002, Chadde 2002).
USDA Plant Database
Typha x glauca generally occurs where Typha latifolia and
Typha angustifolia overlap (Chadde 2002).
USDA Plant Database
Typha spp. is found worldwide. It is a native species that was found in the
United States before the arrival of Columbus and European settlers. Michigan is one of the many states Typha spp. was found to occur.
The common cattail usually occurs in or near water. It is an indicator of an
obligate wetland (USDA Plant Database 2002). Cattails can also occur along the shores of lakes, ponds and streams (Grace 1987). They can also be found around ditches. Cattails are able to withstand fluctuations in hydrology although the common cattail generally occurs in shallower waters that are less than two and a half meters (Rook 2002). The pH that the common cattails occur ranges from 5.5 to 7.5 (USDA Plant Database 2002). Cattails can grow on different types of textured soils as well as on mounds of organic matter (Rook 2002).
No specific requirements may be known, but Cattails must occur on or near
shallow water since it contains the necessary amounts of light, temperature and oxygen for germination. Cattails produce lots of litter, which makes high amounts of organic matter that they are able to grow on (Rook 2002). Cattails also require anaerobic conditions.
Reproduction is either by seed or by vegetative spread (Grace 1987). Typha are
able to colonize new sites by seed dispersal since each fruit has tiny hairs on it that aid in wind dispersal (Rook 2002). This allows for cattails to occur nearly worldwide. Each spike can contain 117,000 to 268,000 of seeds. Only when the fruit comes in contact with water will the pericarp open to release the seeds, which will then sink in the wet mud (Rook 2002). Vegetative spread occurs through a complex array of rhizomes that can spread more than 60m^2 within two years after germination (Grace 1987). The rate of vegetative spread occurs very rapidly. Most of the plant’s biomass such as rhizomes is located belowground. Vegetative spread is responsible for the maintenance and spreading of existing strands of rhizomes (Rook 2002).
Muskrats and geese feed on the underground rhizomes (Rook 2002). Green Wing
Teal, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Canada Goose, and Snow Goose also eat the seeds. Not only are cattails a source of food for animals, but they also serve as cover and nesting sites for ducks, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Marsh wren. Sometimes deer will use cattails for cover.
Cattails were used as a human source of food for many Native Americans (USDA Plant
Database 2002). All parts of the plant were edible. The shoots from the rhizomes could be made into pickles or cooked to taste like cabbage. The flower stalks were also boiled and eaten. Most of the parts of the plant tasted like cucumbers or cabbage. The rhizomes are high in starch and can be grounded into flour. Not only were cattails an important source of food, but they were also used as thatch for roofing, woven to make mats, chairs, hats, and stuffing for pillows etc. (Rook 2002).
Cattails tend to invade native plant communities due to their high competitiveness.
(Grace 1987). Typha spp. has a large cover and fast-growing capabilities that allow them to out-compete other species by shading them. Physical removal may be necessary if there is not a reduction in nutrient inputs and the water flow and salinity are not maintained (USDA Plant Database 2002). Cattails require a low salinity, a high amount of moisture, and a moderate amount of nutrients. Fluctuations in these factors could cause outgrowths of cattails due to a high reproductive rate causing it to become a noxious weed. By maintaining a relative steady state of inputs, Cattails will not be able to colonize new sites rapidly.
Grace, James B. 1987. The impact of preemeption on the zonation of two Typha
species along lakeshores. Ecological Monographs 57(4): 283-303.
Chadde, Steve W. 2002. A Great Lakes Wetland Flora. Laurium, Michigan. 599-
Rook, Earl J.S. 2002. Typha latifolia: Common Cattail. Flora, fauna, earth, and
sky…The natural history of the northwoods. Valley Internet Company. 11/15/03.
USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, version 3.5.
(http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA. 70874-4490 USA. 11/13/03.