Typha domingensis is a species common to many wetlands and can be found throughout temperate and tropical regions worldwide. Cattails are herbaceous and rhizomatous plants, which means they have a modified subterranean stem which sends out roots and shoots from its nodes. They have long, slender green stalks which are topped with brown, fluffy and sausage-shaped flowering heads. These plants can measure between 1.5 to 4 meters tall. Their leaves are 6 to 18 millimeters wide.
Habitat and ecology
Cattails occur in or near water in marshes, ponds, lakes and depressions. They are an indicator species as they are characteristic of wetlands and can tolerate being partially submerged, part or all the time. They can also tolerate reduced soil conditions and moderate salinity, making them a pioneer species which can colonize previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems. A key feature of wetlands, Typha domingensis are also known for their ability to reduce water pollution.
Conservation and threats
The plant is classified as ‘Least Concern’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. Southern cattail plants have been used historically for a wide variety of purposes. Although the plant is not threatened, local heavy grazing can eliminate Typha species, but they are known to be resistant to moderate grazing.
Some Native American tribes used the stalks for bedding material, matting and ceremonial bundles whereas the leaves and sheath bases were used as caulking material. The stalk can also be used as a torch after being dipped in oil. Other uses include basketry and cordage. The plant is said to have medicinal properties, being used to treat wounds such as burns. Most of its parts are edible: the young flowers can be boiled or steamed like corn, its pollen used as a substitute for flour, while the rhizomes and lower stems are said to have a sweet flavour and can be eaten raw, baked, roasted or boiled. In addition to its multiple medicinal, construction and culinary uses throughout the world, the Southern cattail can help reduce bacterial contamination of water for agricultural uses.