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Species Profile - Cattail





Typha angustifolia and Typha latifolia: Typha - Greek from typhe meaning cattail; angustifolia & latifolia - Latin, angusti means narrow, lati means broad, folia means leaves.

"Cattails sway slightly in the breeze. The velvety brown spike of the cattail and the song of a red-wing blackbird supply the quintessential elements of a marsh."
~ Through the Looking Glass... A Field Guide to Aquatic Plants


cattail flower


Cattail Flower

Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha angustifolia): 

Broad-leaved Cattail (Typha latifolia): 

These two species of cattails can hybridize and show a blend of features. Generally the hybrids have longer flower stalks and taller leaves than their parent plants.

Similar-looking plants before flowering: blue flag irisThis link leads to an external site. (Iris versicolor) and sweetflagThis link leads to an external site. (Acorus calmus)


Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha angustifolia): 

Broad-leaved Cattail (Typha latifolia): 


cattail rhizome


Cattail Rhizome

Cattails grow from rhizomesThis link leads to an external site. and seeds. Rhizomes produce shoots in the fall that begin to sprout in the spring once sunlight can reach the soil. Seeds will germinate on exposed mudflats. One seed can create a large network of rhizomes with hundreds of shoots in a single growing season.

The flower spikes are formed by mid-summer. The male spike starts out green and turns yellow when the flowers begin releasing pollen. Cattail pollen is spread by the wind and after the pollen is released, the male flowers drop off the stalk. The female flower spike is covered in a sheath and is green until the sheath drops off once the flowers are mature. Then the female spike will turn brown.

The individual female flowers that make up the spike will form nutlets or remain sterile after fertilization. Each nutlet has a fluff of fine hairs that allows it to be carried by the wind. The brown flower spikes will begin to open and release the nutlets in the fall, some nutlets will stay attached to the flower stalk until the following spring.


Cattail shoots and rhizomes are a primary food source for muskrats and are also eaten by geese and humans. Cattail moth caterpillars eat the seeds of the female flower spikes and create a network of silky threads to hold the brown fluff together forming an insulated shelter for the winter.

Natural Connections

One way to demonstrate to students how environmental stressors affect aquatic plants in their local stream or river is to use Lesson 3:2 - Aquatic Plant Power. This interactive game helps students to realize how stressors can change the balance and health of an aquatic ecosystem.

If you or your students are not familiar with the amazing diversity of organisms in your local water bodies, use Lesson 1:4 - Water Habitat Site Study to explore who is living in the water near you.

Fun Facts