Typha latifolia, Common Cattail
Typha angustifolia, Narrow Leaf Cattail
Typha domingensis, Dominican Cattail
The cattail is a monocotyledonous flowering plant of the genus Typha in the Typhaceae, cattail family. The most common North American species is Typha latifolia. Other North American species are T. angustifolia, the narrow-leaf cattail, and T. domingensis, the southern cattail.
The cattail is a tall plant with bladelike leaves and long cylindrical brown spikes at the tops of its stems; these spikes are the flowers of the plant; the seeds form inside and float on the water, usually to drift elsewhere and start new plants. The plants have rhizomes which also spread horizontally to start new plants, and the spread of cattails is a powerful part of the process of water bodies being converted to land. The cattail is found throughout North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The plant grows in lakes and marshlike areas, sometimes in dense clumps, and is often considered a nuisance. However, the plant's root systems help prevent erosion, and the plants themselves are often home to Red-winged Blackbirds and geese.
Muskrats eat the roots; some humans eat them as well, and report them to be tasty, generally harvesting them in the fall and winter. The pollen is also sometimes used as a flour supplement, and the green flowering stalks can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob.
In North America, the native cattail is increasingly being supplanted by the invasive purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria.