The rattle of the cattails swaying in the breeze is calming. ~Paul Gurrieri
I wasn’t sure which native plant I would highlight for my next installment of Simply The Best until I was watching the cattails turn into a mass of fluff this fall. There is something magical about cattails that bring me back to my childhood and the creek in which I used to play. What a perfect native plant to feature for the wonderful meme Dozen for Diana@ Elephant’s Eye, and for Gail@Clay and Limestone’s equally wonderful Wildflower Wednesday.
One of the most beautiful sights in early spring is the greening of the stalks of the cattails or Typha latifolia part of the Cat-Tail Family (Typhaceae). My cattails found their way into the pond long after the second year it was created. There are cattails also on the edges of the meadow where there is a run-off ditch. I expect the cattails in the pond were born on the wind or on the back of a frog or two. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to find cattails growing quickly in the pond as they are one of the first native plants to appear in newly wet muddy areas due to their very efficient seed dispersal.
Cattails usually grow in large colonies that resemble swaths of grass. They mark the transition between land that is changing from a wet to dry. Cattails occur in shallow freshwater wetlands, from sea level to 7,000 ft. where it is partly sunny to sunny. They can also grow in damp soil without standing water. Cattails have the unique challenge of getting enough oxygen so this plant has evolved with its leaves containing large air vessels to transfer oxygen to the submerged roots. Even the dead stalks are capable of getting oxygen to the roots. Quite an adept plant.
Cattails are monoecious, which means that they have both male and female flowers appearing on the same plant. In early spring, the male flowers appear at the top of the plant with the female part just below. The female flowers produce long hairs that catch and hold the pollen. After pollination occurs, the staminate part breaks apart, leaving behind the “cattail” or club-like spike. Cattails bloom in summer to early fall.
Cattails can reach heights of six to twelve feet. The sausage-like flowering spikes persist through autumn before becoming a mass of downy white fluff. The seeds are very small, encased in down and wind-dispersed. Cattails can also survive in the soil for long periods with buried seeds. It germinates best with sunlight and changing temperatures. It also spreads by rhizomes once established.
Because cattails can be very aggressive, they often need some management. Control is difficult, and it is best to let them grow where they can colonize and not cause a problem. The most successful method for controlling cattails in the literature is by mowing or burning followed by prolonged flooding. They are easiest to control in a small pond or container although they will take over the pond. We pull them up, not getting the root, but still it is the only way to control them in our little pond. We also cut off the cattail flowers once they begin to produce the fluffy seeds.
Typha is a genus with eleven species of monocotyledonous flowering plants (containing both the male and female flowers on one plant). They are largely found in the Northern Hemisphere in a variety of wetland habitats especially inland. In the Great Lakes, Typha is said to be the most abundant wetland plant. And different species of cattails, are adapted to different water depths.
The most widespread species is Typha latifolia, which is found in my area. These cattails extend across the entire temperate northern hemisphere. They have recently been introduced into fresh water in Australia where the water is shallow and dirty. The cattails filter the water catching items found floating or submerged.
Other Typha species include: T. angustifolia nearly as widespread, but does not extend as far north; some believe it was introduced and is invasive in North America; T. domingens is a more southerly and extends from the southern U.S. to South America; T. orientalis is found in eastern & northern Australia, temperate & tropical Asia and New Zealand; T. laxmannii, T. minima, and T. shuttleworthii are largely restricted to Asia and parts of southern Europe.
Typha latifolia is also known as Broadleaf cattail, Common cattail, Broad-leaf cattail. It is named for the Greek, tufh (typhe), meaning”bulrush, cattail”. Latifolia, comes from the Latin latus,”broad”, and folius, “leaf”; “broad leaf”.
Typha has many common names. They may be known in Britain as bulrush, or reedmace, in America as cattail, catninetail, punks, or corn dog grass, in Australia as cumbungi or bulrush, and in New Zealand as raupo. Typha though should not be confused with other plants known as bulrush, such as some sedges.
Typha has the most uses of any native plant I have researched so far. Some I knew about, but many I had never heard of before.
Many people love to use the flowers in arrangements. Cattails are great for wetland gardens and habitats such as a water garden, rain gardens and bog or pond areas. Cattails can also be used as an as a thick privacy screen if your property is bordered by wet areas.
Typha flowers can be dipped in wax and then lit as a candle, the stem serving as a wick. It can also be lit without the use of wax as it will smolder slowly, like incense, and can repel insects.
Typha can be used as a starch to produce ethanol, instead of other grains. They have a great advantage because they do not require much maintenance to grow.
Native people have used the Typha plant for many items throughout the northern hemisphere. I find the historical uses are by far the most interesting. Archeologists have found traces of Typha grains on grinding stones across Europe from 30,000 BC. There were even mats made from cattails found dating back over 10,000 years old in Nevada that hadn’t decomposed.
There are written records about Typha in caves in Ohio dating to 800-1400 A.D. References were also found dating back to the 1600’s as it was ground into meal by Native Americans and the early colonists. Native Americans used Typha leaves to make toys, chair backing, baskets, seat pads, thatched roofs and sandals. The broad leaves were also used under a horse’s collar to prevent it from being injured.
Some Native American tribes used Typha down to start fires, line moccasins, for bedding, diapers, baby powder, and a lining papoose or cradle boards. People still use Typha down to stuff clothing and pillows. The stems of Typha produce an adhesive substance that some native people used as a caulk to seal leaks in their boats. Additionally Typha was used in Native American religious ceremonies.
Medicinally the jelly found between Typha leaves was a treatment for sores, boils, burns, wounds, inflammation and pain. The fuzzy down was applied to burns and to prevent chafing in babies. Young flower heads and infused roots were eaten to treat dysentery.
Language of Flowers
Cattails are said to mean Prosperity and Peacefulness. I completely agree as the uses are abundant and the sight and sound of cattails on the wind bring a wonderful solace.
clicking in the wind, showy red-winged
blackbirds clinging to stalks high above
the waterline, and where snowy egrets
only sound heard is the chittering of
birds and that warm summer breeze
softly moaning and sighing for you alone.
Check out other posts in the series, Simply the Best:
Don’t forget that December 1st marks the next installment of Seasonal Celebrations/Garden Lessons Learned. Click the link to learn more. Beth@PlantPostings will be wrapping up this past season with lessons we have learned in our gardens, and I will be setting the stage for next season’s celebrations (winter up N and summer down S of the equator).
You do need to be a garden blogger to join in Season Celebrations. Any blogger is welcome. Write a poem, post your favorite pictures and prose that tells why you love this season. What do you love to do in this upcoming season? What holidays or rituals make it a wonderful season for you? How does your garden grow and what favorite plants will be blooming? I hope you will be joining us. Just create a post and link in with both or one of us between December 1st and the 20th, and around the 21st we will reveal those lessons and celebrations.
Next up on the blog: Saturday is December 1st which brings us to the start of another Seasonal Celebrations meme. I hope you will join me. Next Monday will be time for another Gardens Eye Journal to see what happened here in the garden in November.
I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.
I hope you will join me for my posts once a month on the , at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my current post now.
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