University of Maryland Extension: Plant of the Week
Photo and text by Ellen Nibali
Cattails are as American as apple pie and edible, too.
Fond childhood memories include lighting them to make smoky punks, but cattails have been used for everything from baskets to boats by Native Americans and peoples around the globe.
The narrow leaves arise from reedy clumps. In late summer, beige flower spikes usually go unnoticed, but by early fall they become the velvety brown seedheads we know so well.
Birds nest in the stalks and eat the seed. Wildlife feed on the fleshy rhizomes.
Common cattails, Typha latifolia, are useful in sunny unmowable ditches or wet areas but too big and aggressive for small ponds.
Ornamental ponds can enjoy Typha augustifolia, narrow-leaf cattail, which reaches 4 feet, or Typha minima, Dwarf cattail which reaches only 12 to 18 inches.