- Typha, from the Greek, tufh
(typhe), "bulrush, cattail", perhaps from typhein, to
smoke or to emit smoke, in allusion either to the use of the spikes
for maintaining smoky fires or to the smoky brown color of the fruiting
- angustifolia, from the Latin, angustus, "narrow", and
folius, "leaf"; hence, "narrow leaf"
- Common Name, from the width of the leaf relative to that of the other
common, North American cattail, Typha latifolia
- Other common names include: Cattail, Narrow-leaved Cattail, and in
the UK, Bulrush, Lesser Bulrush, Small Reed Mace, quenouille a feuilles
etroites (Qué), Bodan (Gaelic), Palka waskolistna
(Pol), Smalkaveldun, Smalbladigt Kaveldun (Swe), Smalt
dunkjevle (Dan), Smalbladet Dunhammer (Nor), Kapeaosmankäämi
(Fin), Schmalblättriger Rohrkolben (Ger), Kleine Lisdodde
(NL), Pálka úzkolistá (Slovak)
- Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
- Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
- Class Liliopsida, the Monocotyledons
- Subclass Commelinidae
- Order Typhales, the Cattails
- Family Typhaceae, the Cattails. In North America,
a single genus with three species: Typha
latifolia, Common Cattail, Typha angustifolia,
Narrow Leaf Cattail, and Typha domingensis, Dominican
- Genus Typha, the Cattails
- Taxonomic Serial Number: 42325
- Also known as Typha angustifolia var. calumetensis,
Typha angustifolia var. elongata
- Distribution of our two species overlaps considerably in the contiguous
US. Where they occur together, hybrids are common, especially in habitats
with variable water levels. Typha latifolia
x Typha angustifolia hybrids (Typha X glauca),
commonly known as Hybrid or Glaucus Cattail, are especially common in
the Midwest and may develop extensive pure stands by rhizomatous growth.
Hybrids are almost always intermediate in form between the parent species.
- An erect, rhizomatous, semiaquatic or aquatic, perennial herb.
- Leaves erect, linear, flat, basal, very narrow, and flattened;
¼"-½" wide and 3'-6' tall; 12-16 leaves arising from
each vegetative shoot.
- Stems stout, erect, 3'-6'.
- Rhizomes stout, produced at the leafbase, up to 27" in length
and typically ¾"-1½" in diameter.
- Flower structure a dense, fuzzy, cylindrical spike on
the end of stem, with a distinct gap of 1"-3" of naked stem
between the upper, male portion (staminate) and the lower, female (pistillate)
portion. Both male and female sections are roughly the same length.
Male flowers lighter brown; female flowers often green during bloom
turning dark brown during seed maturation. Individual blossoms minute
and closely packed on spike. Bloom May-June.
- Fruits cigar-shaped and 2"-6" long, with soft, downy seeds.
- Seed a tiny nutlet, about 1 mm long, with downy hairs underneath
- Identifiable as a cattail by its tall, sword-shaped leaves and distinctive
- Distinguished from the closely related Common Cattail (Typha
- narrower, deeper green leaves on a less robust plant
- fruiting spikes showing clear separation between the male and
- leaves typically extending beyond the spike.
- Nova Scotia south through parts of New England along the coast to
southern Florida; in the Midwest south to southeastern Texas.
- Scattered populations are found throughout Nebraska and Wyoming,
parts of the Intermountain West, and along the Pacific Northwest coast
into central California.
- Common throughout most of Minnesota, but uncommon in the BWCA.
- Almost anywhere soil remains wet, saturated, or flooded most of the
growing season, including.wet meadows, marshes, fens, pond and lake
margins, floating bog mats, seacoast estuaries, roadside ditches, irrigation
canals, oxbow lakes, and backwater areas of rivers and streams. Tolerates
continuous inundation, seasonal drawdowns, and brackish waters.
- Where Common Cattail and Narrow Leaf Cattail are found together,
they are frequently segregated by water depth, with Common Cattail found
in shallow water and Narrow Leaf Cattail in deep water, usually more
than 2½' deep.
- Cattail stands produce enormous quantities of litter; established
stands tend to grow on soils with high amounts of organic matter. May
also grow on fine texture mineral soils, but usually with organic matter
in the surface layers.
- A dominant component of early successional stages in wetlands. It
rapidly colonizes exposed wet mineral soils, as it produces an extremely
high number of wind and water dispersed seeds. It is also an early successional
species occupying the water's edge on floating bog mats. In some situations
with constant water levels, maintains relatively stable communities.
Forms dense, nearly single species communities in shallow, freshwater
marshes and ponds.
- Early to mid-seral species and a dominant in disturbed wetlands. In the absence of disturbance, dominates marshes in dense, single-species
stands, out-competing other species.
- Generally restricted to unstable environments, often with basic, calcareous,
or somewhat salty soils. Cattails can grow on a wide gradient of substrate
types. Wet pure sand, peat, clay and loamy soils have been documented
under cattail stands.
- Typha angustifolia is considered a pioneer in secondary succession
of disturbed bogs. Presumably, an increase in the acidity of a bog would
lower the pH and reduce the invasion of T. angustifolia.
- The effects of fire vary with water depth and soil moisture. On flooded
sites and on sites with exposed but saturated soils, fire consumes most
or all of the aboveground growth, but underground rhizomes remain undamaged
and plants survive. When soils become dry because of drought or marshland
drainage, fires can burn deep into the organic layers, consuming the
rhizomes and killing the plant.
Canada geese, herons, egrets, and other waterfowl use burned marsh
areas for feeding and nesting.
- Shrubs: kalmia (Kalmia spp.), spiraea (Spiraea
spp.), blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), viburnum (Viburnum
- Herbs: sedges (Carex spp.), bulrushes (Scirpus
spp.), rushes (Juncus spp.), foxtail barley (Critestion jubatum),
reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinaceae), oakleaf goosefoot (Chenopodium
glaucum), curled dock (Rumex crispus), panicgrass (Panicum
spp.), cottonsedge (Eriophorum spissum), chufa flatsedge (Cyperus
- Sweet Flag (Acorus americanus), Blue Flag Iris (Iris
versicolor), Common Cattail (Typha
- Mammals: Rhizomes and basal portions an important food of
Muskrat as well as an excellent hut building material. Deer sometimes
use it for cover
- Birds: Rhizomes and basal portions an important food
of geese. For ducks, however, is of little value as food or cover and
is considered an undesirable weed in marshes managed primarily for ducks.
The seeds are too small to be an important bird food source, but are
eaten by Green Wing Teal, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Canada Goose,
and Snow Goose. The structure and density of stands affect their usefulness
as waterfowl nesting cover. Breeding ducks rarely nest in dense stands
that cover vast expanses of marsh, but are attracted to wetlands where
open water and cattail cover are well interspersed in roughly equal
proportions. Common cattail provides favored nesting sites for the red-winged
blackbird, yellow-headed blackbird, and marsh wren.
- Blackbirds use cattail for perches. Extensive monotypic stands
of cattail are usually poor habitat for wildlife Narrow-leaved cattail
provides important cover for muskrats and a variety of waterfowl. White-tailed deer use cattail for cover
- Mined by caterpillars of the moths Arzama opbliqua and Nonagria
oblonga. Aphids and Colandra pertinaux (the snout beetle)
also feed on Typha leaves and stems. The cattail rhizomes provide food
to mammals such as the muskrat. The grazing of muskrats may greatly
influence cattail communities. A cycling population of muskrats may
reach such a density so as to totally set back a cattail stand for the
season. These "eat outs" are important to maintain open water in a balanced
system. Muskrats utilize leaves and stems for houses and eat the rhizomes.
Cattail fruits provide nesting material for terrestrial birds and dry
stems may be used by aquatic birds.
- Leaves and stems have been used around the world as bedding, thatching,
and matting, and in the manufacture of baskets, boats and rafts, shoes,
ropes, and paper.
- Native Americans used as food. Rhizomes were dried and ground into
flour or eaten as cooked vegetables; young stems were eaten raw or cooked;
and immature fruiting spikes were eaten after roasting. The leaves were
woven for matting and the soft down from ripe fruiting heads was used
as padding and in diapers.
- Most parts can be eaten. Many consider the young plant and its tender
spike to be delicacies.
- A good source of biomass, making an excellent addition to the compost
heap or used as a source of fuel.
- Although useful in wetland restoration, without control it will form
dense stands that eventually outcompete other, more valuable wildlife
food and cover species.
- Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes
- Sexual reproduction via seed dispersal is responsible for invasion
of new areas.
- Seed production prolific; each spike may contain 117,000 to 268,000
tinyseeds. At maturity, the spike bursts under dry conditions, releasing
the fruits. Each fruit has bristly hairs that aid in wind dispersal.
When the fruit comes in contact with water, the pericarp opens rapidly,
releasing the seed, which then sinks. In wet weather the fruits
often fall to the ground in dense mats.
- Seeds capable of germination immediately upon shedding under favorable
conditions, but require moist or wet substrates, warm temperatures,
low oxygen concentrations, and long day/short night exposures for
germination to occur. Highest germination rates (86%-89%) at 77º-86º
F. Because of the relatively high temperature required for germination,
seeds overwinter in northern latitudes, but not necessarily in southern
latitudes. Light, temperature, and oxygen requirements for germination
are best met in shallow water or on moist mudflats in vegetation-free
areas. Within established stands, seedlings are practically nonexistent
because existing vegetative cover greatly reduces light and temperature
for germination. Leaves and stems may also produce allelopathic
- Vegetative reproduction occurs through an extensive rhizome
system and is responsible for the maintenance and expansion of existing
- Seeds are wind pollinated and require moisture, but not oxygen for
germination. Laboratory studies have shown that seeds germinate
best in water 1 inch deep, but can germinate in water as deep as 16". In the field seed germination usually occurs following exposure of mudflats.
Narrow-leaved cattail was found in wetland seedbanks that had been drained
for more than 70 years.
- Leaves emerge in the spring, flowering begins early to mid-summer,
and the greatest clonal growth occurs in the fall. Under good conditions,
seeds germinate from May to September. Aerial shoot growth continues
until first freeze when plants go dormant.
- By seed
- Collect seed immediately prior to ripening, clean, and store dry
in cloth or paper bag.
- Sow outdoors in fall, ¼"-½" deep, in constantly
moist soil which is unlikely to flood.
- Surface sow indoors, ¼"deep, in pot standing in an
inch or so of water. Pot up seedlings as soon as possible and increase
depth of water as they grow. Plant out in summer.
- By division
- Separate young shoots in spring when 6"-12" tall, making
sure some root is attached.
- Transplant to permanent location and water in.
- Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
- Cultural Requirements
- Sun full; shade intolerant
- Soil rich, pH 3.7-8.5
- Water to 24"
- Fertilization unnecessary but will improve growth
- Growth rate rapid
- Available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries
- A very invasive plant spreading freely at the roots when in a suitable
site, it is not suitable for growing in small areas. Unless restrained
by some means, such as a large bottomless container, the plant will
soon completely take over a site and will grow into the pond, gradually
filling it in.Will often form an almost complete monoculture in boggy
Last updated on
26 February, 2004