Typha angustifolia
Common Name: narrow-leaved cattail 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Typhaceae
Native Range: North America, Europe, northern and central Asia, northern Africa
Zone: 2 to 11
Height: 3.00 to 7.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to July
Bloom Description: Yellow (male) green (female) - sausage brown flower spike
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Wet
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Water Plant, Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Wet Soil

Culture

Easily grown in rich loams in full sun to part shade in soils ranging from wet to standing water to 12” deep. Cattails are aggressive colonizers. If left unrestrained, they will crowd out most other water margin plants. If planted directly in the muddy shallows of ponds or pools, site plants carefully because the roots go deep and are hard to eradicate once established. Plants often establish themselves on shore and then migrate outward into the shallows sometimes spreading throughout a pond or swampy area. Plant may be sited in containers or tubs to restrain invasive spread. Water deeper than 12” will also restrain invasive spread. Plants may self-seed. Tolerates severe degradation of wetlands and is sometimes the last wetland species to survive.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Typha angustifolia, commonly known as narrowleaf cattail, is a marginal, semi-aquatic, herbaceous perennial that typically grows from extensive creeping rhizomes to 3-7’ tall, often forming, over time, dense stands of robust spreading vegetation. It is native to wet, often mucky soils, including areas of shallow water to 12” deep, in fresh and brackish marshes, swamps, ditches, water margins of rivers and ponds, and along various other wetland areas in North America, Europe and Asia.

Two cattail species are native to the U.S. Midwest, namely Typha angustifolia (narrowleaf cattail) and Typha latifolia (common cattail). Typha angustifolia is very similar to Typha latifolia, but is of narrower stature. Ranges for these two plants overlap and they sometimes hybridize (Typha x glauca has characteristics of both parents) making it sometimes very difficult to identify a specimen plant in the wild.

Narrowleaf cattail is easily identifiable from a distance because of its distinctive, narrow, blade-like green leaves (each to 5’ long and 5/16” wide) and its stiff unbranched flower stalk which blooms from May to July and is topped by a poker-like, sausage-brown flower spike (5/8 to 1 1/4” diameter) which purportedly resembles a cattail. Flowers are monoecious (male and female flowers are produced on the same spike), with the male and female parts of each flower spike being separated by a gap of 1/ 2 to 3”. Slender upper spike has male flowers only with these flowers being shed soon after pollination. The lower spike has female flowers only, green when young but maturing to brown. After bloom, the male flowers rapidly disperse, leaving a naked stalk tip. The pollinated female flowers turn brown as the seeds mature, forming the familiar cylindrical, sausage-like, cattail fruiting spike (to 9” long in this species). This plant produces a prodigious amount of seed (to 200,000 seeds per spike). Male flower spikes die and drop off, leaving the familiar brown female spike or cat tail that gradually dries and falls apart with its seed clumps scattering to the wind. Feather-like plumes of tiny brown hairs attached to each seed aid in this dispersal.

Narrowleaf cattail is noted for attracting wildlife. Dense stands of cattails provide nesting areas and cover for many species of wetland animals plus their leaves provide nesting material for a number of different species of wetland birds including yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, marsh wrens, American coots, and various rails and bitterns.

Narrowleaf cattail has year-round edible uses: (a) the peeled rhizomes can be cooked like potatoes or dried and made into protein-rich flour which can be added as a thickener for soups; (b) the young spring shoots are juicy with a nutty flavor and can be used as an asparagus substitute; (c) the young immature flowers can be boiled and eaten somewhat like corn on the cob; (d) the base of the leaves can be eaten like an artichoke; (e) the flowers can be eaten raw or cooked.

Leaves are not edible but may be woven into mats, seats and baskets.

Genus name comes from the Greek name.

Specific epithet means narrow-leaved.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Invasive outside of containers.

Garden Uses

Water gardens. Bog gardens. Ponds. Naturalize in wetland areas. Flower spikes are very popular additions to dried flower arrangements.