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Cattails

Typha spp.

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

  • Brown, sausage-shaped “tail” of tightly packed seeds on top of a long, stiff stalk. The tail is actually the female flower spike.
  • Tails can grow 2-6 inches long
  • Small, slender spike on top of the tail. This is the male portion of the flower. The narrow-leaved cattail has a gap between the tail and the spike.
  • Flat, pale green leaves
  • Common cattail leaves can be up to 2 inches wide. Narrow-leaved cattail leaves are not as wide.
  • Grows to 6 feet tall

Habitat:

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

Range:

  • Grows throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

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

Other Facts:

  • 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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