Cattail, common name for herbaceous, perennial plants (genus Typha) of the cattail family (Typhaceae) which grow in marshes and waterways. The name derives from the cylindrical, brown fruiting spikes. At least 8 species exist worldwide; 2 in Canada (narrow-leaved cattail, T. angustifolia, and common cattail, T. latifolia). Clusters of stiff, ribbonlike leaves, up to 3 m (or more) tall, grow from a thick, horizontal rootstock.

Biological Importance

The rootstock is a rich source of starch; the succulent, young shoots and green flower spikes are also edible; and the pollen and oil-rich seeds have livestock feed potential. The leaves are tough and pithy, and were used by Aboriginal People to make mats, bags, baskets and clothing. Stems and leaves are suitable for making paper and cloth.

Formerly, the cottony fluff attached to fruits was used to stuff bedding. Cattails also provide food and shelter for wildlife. These plants are also called bulrushes, a name which sometimes refers to plants of genus Scirpus of the sedge family.

See also Aboriginal Uses of Plants.