Cattails (Typha spp.)
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Cattails are perennial aquatic plants found in rice fields, drainage ditches, and irrigation canals. Common cattail, Typha latifolia, typically forms dense colonies in shallow water of about 1-1/2 feet (0.5 m), yet can be found growing in mud. Common cattail occurs throughout California to about 6600 feet (about 2000 m). In natural communities such as marshes, ponds, lake margins, estuaries, and wet meadows, it is a valuable source of food and shelter for wildlife. Cattail also prevents erosion and can help remove excess nutrients from water. However, it can be a problem in irrigation canals, rice fields, and other controlled aquatic systems.
Seedlings are fast growing and have thick, erect, light green leaves. Stems are pithy, which distinguish them from grass seedlings. The first leaf is whitish toward the base.
Common cattail: The cotyledon (seed leaf) is linear, threadlike, and usually very curved. The first leaf is whitish near the base. The first two to four leaves are hairless, linear, have a single midvein and distinct cross-veins. The next few leaves are ribbonlike and float on the water's surface. The seedling is fast growing with thick, erect, light green leaves.
Mature cattails are 5 to 10 feet (1.5–3 m) tall and topped with a characteristic cigar-shaped flower cluster or fruit. The flower-bearing, unjointed pithy stem is nearly as long as the plant's spearlike, parallel-veined leaves and large creeping underground stems. A similar species, common tule, Scirpus acutus var. occidentalis, is distinguished from cattails by its very short leaves and flowers, which are produced in loose clusters. Plants mature from July through August.
Common cattails can stand about 9.8 feet (3 m) tall and are topped with a characteristic cigar-shaped flower head. The flower-bearing, unjointed pithy stem is nearly as long as the plant's spearlike, parallel-veined leaves and large creeping rootstocks.
The flower head is a spike with a characteristic cigar shape. The spike becomes a cottony or velvety cluster of wind-dispersed seeds that breaks open when mature.
Common cattails bloom from May to August. Tiny flowers cluster into spike flower heads that are shaped like cigars and usually reach beyond the height of the leaves. Tiny reddish to black-brown male flowers are found in the upper portion of the spike and tiny, dark, greenish brown to red-brown female flowers are found in the spike's lower portion. The spike becomes a cottony or velvety cluster of wind-dispersed seeds that breaks open when mature.
Seeds germinate in April.
Common cattail: Seeds are minute, roughly 1/17 of an inch (1.5 mm) long, yellowish brown, and somewhat football-shaped.
Common cattails reproduce mainly from horizontal, underground creeping stems and also by seed.
Related or similar plants
- Western common tule, Schoenoplectus acutus var. occidentals