Typha latifolia L.
Common Cattail, Bulrush, Common Bulrush, Broadleaf Cattail, Great Reedmace, Cooper’s Reed, Cumbungi, Narrow-leaved Cattails
Common cattail is a very familiar inhabitant of wet areas throughout the Americas, as well as in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is a vigorous colonizer of disturbed areas with shallow water for much or all of the season. It forms dense colonies, spreading by cloning itself, and is common in roadside drainage ditches and ponds and swamps. In fact, cattails have thrived because humans are always reshaping the landscape. Over time, they are replaced by other species, still present but less dominant.
Identification: Plants are 3-9½' (1-3 m) tall, with long, thick, flat, straplike pointed leaves like giant grass blades. Leaves are ⅛-1" (6-29 mm) wide and up to 8' (2.5 m) long. A single stout smooth stem, up to ½" (1.3 cm) around, supports the flowerhead. A large sausage-shaped female flowerhead is the most noticeable characteristic. It is ⅝-1¾" (1.8-5 cm) thick and 6-10" (15-25 cm) tall. Above it is a narrower spike of male flowers, sometimes separated from the male spike by up to 1½" (3.8 cm). Flowers appear from June to July. As the plant ages, the male flowers wither, and the female spike turns dark brown, feeling like dense felt. If the flowers were fertilized, they produce small nutlike achenes or seeds. Gradually the seeds peel away from the stem, floating on windborne parachutes to begin again.
These plants hybridize freely with narrower varieties, so there are many subtle variations. We distinguish here only between this and Typha angustifolia, narrow-leaved cattails.
Edibility: Cattail roots may be eaten after peeling and cooking them. Leaf bases and peeled stems are edible, cooked or raw. Young flower spikes are also edible.
Typha latifolia on Wikipedia
Typha latifolia at Illinois Wildflowers
Typha latifolia on Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses
Typha latifolia on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Typha latifolia on the USDA Plants Database
Typha latifolia on floridata.com
Typha latifolia on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database
Typha latifolia on eFloras
Typha latifolia description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 2 Jan 2019.