Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha augustifolia)

Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha augustifolia) 

The Narrow-leaved Cattail or Narrow-leaf Cattail (Typha augustifolia) is very similar to the Common Cattail (Typha latifolia) also know as the Broadleaf Cattail. It belongs to the Cattail Family (Typhaceae) and order Typhales. Typha comes from the Greek for "bog" and augustifolia is Latin for "narrow leaf." The photograph above was taken on French Hill Pond in 2011. The leaves of this plant are long and spear-like. The leaf backs backs are rounded. They can be up to one half inch (1.3 centimeters) wide and are taller than the stem of the plant. A mature plant is generally more than three feet (0.9 meters) tall.

Each plant has separate male and female flowers on a single stem. The female flowers are on a large brown spike near the top of the stem. Atop the female spike and separated by a bare, green-stem gap is a smaller, lighter-colored spike containing the male flowers. The gap between the female and male flowers and the narrower leaves distinguish the Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha augustifolia) from the Common Cattail. These spikes can each be up to six inches (15 centimeters) long. After the male flowers lose their pollen, they wither and create a bare stalk. As the female flowers ripen, they turn into a dense, cotton-like fluff. The microscopic seeds are attached to hair-like filaments that are dispersed by the wind as the female spike disintegrates.

Dense stands of Narrow-leaved Cattails and Broadleaf Cattails are formed on the shore or in shallow water. Narrow-leaved Cattails tend to grow in deeper water. They spread by creeping rhizomes into the pond and along the shore as well as by seeding. The proliferation of this plant is frequently associated with a wetland being transformed into a dry meadow. However, this process does not appear to be significant in French Hill Pond. Instead, Cattails help prevent erosion through their dense root systems and filter water runoff. They do crowd out other plants. The Narrow-leaved Cattail and Common Cattail can hybridize into Typha glauca, a hybrid that can become dominant.

Cattails are in flower from May to July.

Cattail stands serve as shelter for animals. Red-winged Blackbirds are particularly fond of cattail stands.  

Cattails provide food for a number of animals including people. Indigenous Americans and early settlers ground the rootstock into meal for food. The flower spikes can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. The pollen can be collected and used as flour. The leaves can be cooked and eaten. Young leaves and leaf tips can be used in salads.

Birds use the fluff from the ripened female flowers as nesting material. This cattail down may also be used to start fires and was used by Native Americans to line moccasins and papoose bedding. This down may also be used as baby powder. Currently, cattail down is used to stuff clothing and pillows.

The rootstock of cattails is used to make medicine. The stems can be made into candles.

Recent research has shown that cattails are excellent sources of ethanol.

 

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