Herbs and Other Plant Species of the World's Boreal Forests

World Boreal Trees

Terminology | Pictorial

Typha latifolia
Common Cattail
Typhaceae (Cattail Family)

An erect, semiaquatic or aquatic, perennial herb, growing up to a height of 2.5 m.


Common Cattail Distinguishing Features - Leaves: basal, erect, linear, flat, D-shaped in cross section; 12 to 16 leaves arising from each vegetative shoot; pale grayish-green in color; linear leaves are thick, ribbon-like structures with a spongy cross-section exhibiting air channels; the leaves typically do not extend above the spike. Stem: erect, wider in middle, tapering near flower structure. Rhizomes: stout, typically 2.5 cm in diameter and up to 68 cm in length, growing 7 - 10 cm below the soil surface. Flowers: a dense, dark brown, cylindrical spike on the end of a stout, 7.5 - 25 cm stem; the male portion is positioned above the female portion; they are continuous or slightly separated. Male flower: brown, minute, >1.3 cm long, thickly clustered on a club-like spadix; anthers 1mm - 3 mm long. Female flower: tiny, 2mm - 3mm long, when in flower, 10 - 15mm long when in fruit. Female fruiting spike: pale green when in flower, drying to brownish, later blackish brown or reddish brown, in fruit, often mottled with whitish patches of pistil-hair tips. Fruit: a tiny, tufted nutlet. Seed: minute, numerous.


Nearly worldwide; in the boreal regions of North America and Eurasia; in North America, occurring in arctic to temperate regions, from central Alaska and northwest Canada to Newfoundland, and south through every province, territory, and state to Mexico; anywhere soil remains wet, saturated, or flooded most of the growing season; commonly in wet meadows, marshes, fens, pond and lake margins; also seacoast estuaries, roadside ditches, irrigation canals and backwater areas of rivers and streams.


Uses for cattails over time have been many; it has been: used for thatch in roofing, or woven into mats, chairs and hats; a source of fiber for rayon and a crude, greenish brown paper; torches and tinder; pollen used in making fireworks; stuffing pillows, insulation, crude floatation devices, wound dressing, and lining for diapers.

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