Broadleaf Cattail (Latifolia)

The Broadleaf Cattail (Latifolia) is generally described as a perennial forb/herb. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Broadleaf Cattail (Latifolia) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Broadleaf Cattail (Latifolia) will reach up to 5 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Broadleaf Cattail (Latifolia) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, sprigs. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -36°F. has none tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: All parts of the cattail are edible when gathered at the appropriate stage of growth. The young shoots are cut from the rhizomes (underground stems) in the spring when they are about 4 to 16 inches long. The raw young shoots taste like cucumber and can also be made into pickles. When the young shoots are steamed they taste like cabbage. The base of the stem where it attaches to the rhizome can be boiled or roasted like potatoes. The young flower stalks can be taken out of their sheaths and can be boiled or steamed just like corn (Roos-Collins 1990; Clarke 1977).

Cattail pollen is a fine substitute for flours. It is a bright yellow or green color, and turns pancakes, cookies or biscuits a pretty yellow color (which children love). The rhizomes (underground stems) and lower stems have a sweet flavor and can be eaten raw, baked, roasted, or broiled. Cattail rhizomes are fairly high in starch content; this is usually listed at about 30% to 46%. The core can be ground into flour. One acre of cattails would yield about 6,475 pounds of flour (Harrington 1972). This flour would probably contain about 80 % carbohydrates and around 6% to 8% protein. Since cattail occurs around the world, it is a potential source of food for the worlds' population.

Newly emerging shoots of cattails are edible, with delicate flavor and crispy asparagus like texture (Glenn Keator, Linda Yamane, Ann Lewis 1995). The end of a new stem of cattail is popular for eating with Washoes (Murphy 1959). When mixed with tallow, the brown fuzz can be chewed like gum.

The Klamath and Modocs of northern California and southern Oregon make flexible baskets of twined tule or cattail. Cattails or tules were also twined to form mats of varying sizes for sleeping, sitting, working, entertaining, covering doorways, for shade, and a myriad of other uses.

The Cahuilla Indians used the stalks for matting, bedding material, and ceremonial bundles (Barrows 1967). Some tribes used the leaves and sheath bases as caulking materials. Apaches used the pollen in female puberty ceremonies. After dipping the spike in coal oil, the stalk makes a fine torch. The fluff can also be used as tinder, insulation, or for lining baby cradleboards. The down is used for baby beds (Murphey 1959).

Lengths of cattail were plied into rope or other size cordage, and cattail rope was used in some areas to bind bundles of tule into tule boats. Air pockets or aerenchyma in the stems provide the buoyancy that makes tule good boat-building material.

Other Uses: Wildlife, wetland restoration, wastewater tertiary treatment, edible (young shoots, base of stem, flower stalks, pollen, rhizomes), and aesthetics. The multitudes of tiny, wind-carried seeds are too small and too hairy to be attractive to birds (Hotchkiss and Dozier 1949). In a few exceptions, the seeds are eaten by several duck species. Cattail rootstocks are much more valuable as food for wildlife than are the seeds. Geese and muskrats prefer the stems and roots. Moose and elk eat fresh spring shoots. Shelter and nesting cover are provided for long-billed marsh wrens, red-wing blackbirds, and yellow-headed blackbirds.

General Characteristics

General: Cattail Family (Typhaceae). Cattails are herbaceous, rhizomatous perennial plants with long, slender green stalks topped with brown, fluffy, sausage-shaped flowering heads. Typha latifolia plants are 15-30 dm tall. The spike-like, terminal, cylindric inflorescence has staminate flowers above and pistillate flowers below with a naked axis between the staminate and pistillate flowers. The spike is green when fresh, becoming brown as it matures. The basal leaves are thin with parallel veins running the long, narrow length of the leaf. These plants are rhizomatous and colonial.

Required Growing Conditions

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. Broad-leaved cattails are common throughout the United States and temperate and tropical places worldwide (Hickman 1993). Typha latifolia occurs in coastal and valley marshes at elevations lower than 2,000 m.

Cultivation and Care

Adaptation: Typha latifolia generally occurs in shallower water than Typha angustifolia. Compared to T. angustifolia, T. latifolia is exploitative in its ability to clone rapidly and produce a large leaf surface area, which may contribute to its superior competitive ability (Grace and Wetzel 1982). Typha latifolia has been found to be tolerant of water level fluctuations and moderate soil salinity. Cattail spreads both vegetatively and by seed, particularly under drawdown (Shay et al. 1986).

Cattails are always found in or near water, in marshes, ponds, lakes and depressions. They are obligate wetland indicator plant species. Cattails tolerate perennial flooding, reduced soil conditions and moderate salinity. With influxes of nutrient or freshwater, cattails are aggressive invaders in both brackish salt marshes and freshwater wetlands.

Cattails, like many emergent wetland species, tolerate flood drawdown cycles that occur to varying degrees in different wetland and riparian systems. Flood and drought are disturbance factors that vary in frequency, magnitude, and predictability. Frequency relates to the number of episodes per unit time while magnitude of flooding can be expressed in terms of water volume, velocity, gradient, depth, duration, and season of inundation. When planting cattails, the flood-draw-down cycles must be taken into consideration for successful revegetation.

Planting: Typha species may be planted from bare rootstock or seedlings from container stalk or directly seeded into the soil. Bare rootstock or seedlings are preferred revegetation methods where there is moving water. Typha seeds germinate readily and are a cost-effective means to propagate cattail on moist soils. To ensure a long-term stable ecosystem, it is recommended that Typha be just one of the species in the mix for wetland restoration.

Seed Collections: Select seed collection sites where continuous stands with few intermixed species can easily be found. At each collection location, obtain permission for seed collection. Seed is harvested by either taking hand clippers and cutting the stem off below the seed heads or stripping the seed heads off the stalk. Collect and store seeds in brown paper bags or burlap bags. Seeds are then dried in these bags. Seeds can be harvested when they are slightly immature. It is important to harvest the staminate stalks before they dry and blow away. Seeds and seed heads need to be cleaned in a seed cleaner. Plant cleaned seed in fall. Plant in clean, weed - free, moist seed bed. Flooded or ponded soils will significantly increase seedling mortality. Broadcast seed and roll in or rake 1/4 to 1/2 from the soil surface. Some seed may be lost due to scour or flooding. Recommended seed density is unknown at this time.

Seed germination in greenhouse: Clean seed - blow out light seed. To grow seeds, plant in greenhouse in 1 x 1 x 2 pots, 1/4 under the soil surface. Keep soil surface moist. Greenhouse temperature should be 100 degrees F (plus or minus 5 degrees). Seeds begin to germinate after a couple weeks in warm temperatures. Plants are ready in 100 - 120 days to come out as plugs. By planting seeds in August, plugs are ready to plant in soil by November. These plants are very small; growing plants to a larger size will result in increased revegetation success.

Live Plant Collections: No more than 1/4 of the plants in an area should be collected. If no more than 0.09 m2 (1 ft2) should be removed from a 0.4 m2 (4 ft2) area, the plants will grow back in the hole in one good growing season. A depth of 15 cm (6 in) is sufficiently deep for digging plugs. This will leave enough plants and rhizomes to grow back during the growing season. Donor plants, which are drought-stressed, tend to have higher revegetation success.

Live transplants should be planted in moist (not flooded or anoxic) soils as soon as possible. Plants should be transported and stored in a cool location prio

General Upkeep and Control

Heavy grazing will eliminate Typha species as well as other native species from riparian corridors. However cattails are fairly resistant to moderate grazing, providing wet soils are not compacted.

Because cattails have relatively little value for ducks, they are often regarded as undesirable weeds in places intended primarily for ducks. It has been found that mowing cattails after the heads are well formed but not mature and then following up with another mowing about a month later, when new growth is two or three feet high, will kill at least 75% of the plants. This will enable other emergent vegetation with more palatable and nutritious seeds to become established.

Ecologically, cattails tend to invade native plant communities when hydrology, salinity, or fertility changes. In this case they out compete native species, often becoming monotypic stands of dense cattails. Maintaining water flows into the wetland, reducing nutrient input and maintaining salinity in tidal marshes will help maintain desirable species composition. If cattails begin to invade, physical removal may be necessary.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Forb/herb
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Rhizomatous
Drought Tolerance None
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 5
Vegetative Spread Rapid
Flower Color Brown
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Sprigs
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -36
Soil Depth for Roots 14
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Moderate
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5.5–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 14–14 inches/yr
Planting Density 2728–10000 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 14
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA