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Cattails

Typha spp.

Cattails are a native perennial plant that grow in the Chesapeake Bay's wetlands.
Cattails are a native perennial plant that grow in the Chesapeake Bay's wetlands.

Cattails are a native perennial plant with distinctive brown, sausage-shaped “tails.” They grow in fresh and brackish wetlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Two species of cattails can be found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed:

  • Common or broad-leaved cattail (Typha latifolia)
  • Narrow-leaved cattail (Typha angustifolia)

Appearance:

Cattails have a brown, sausage-shaped “tail”—actually the female flower spike—full of tightly packed seeds on top of a long, stiff stalk. These tails can grow 2 to 6 inches in length. The small, slender spike on top of the tail is the male portion of the flower. The narrow-leaved cattail has a gap between the tail and the spike. Cattail leaves are flat and pale green; common cattail leaves can be up to 2 inches wide, while narrow-leaved cattail leaves are not as wide. Cattails grow to 6 feet tall.

Habitat:

Form dense colonies in any area where the soil remains wet or flooded during the growing season, including wetlands, marshes, bogs, ditches, ponds and shorelines. Common cattails grow mainly in fresh water, while narrow-leaved cattails range into brackish waters. Common cattails usually grow in shallower water than narrow-leaved cattails.

Range:

Grows throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

In autumn, the flower spikes mature into seed heads. Wind, water and other natural disturbances scatter the soft, fuzzy seeds. Cattails also reproduce asexually when underground rhizomes spread. A single acre of cattails may derive from just a few original plants.

Other Facts:

  • Cattails are considered to be invasive in some areas because they grow rapidly and crowd out other plant species.
  • Native Americans have found interesting medicinal uses for parts of the cattail plant, such as preventing chafing, healing burns, curing kidney stones and treating whooping cough. Cattails have also been used for food, drink and building materials.
  • If you pull a tuft from a cattail’s tail, it will expand into a handful of downy seeds.

Sources and Additional Information:




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