Common Cattail

Typha latifolia

Family Typhaceae

Notable Features
Leaves: Leaves exist singly, are extremely long, spearlike, erect, stiff, smooth, and originate from rootstalks which nestle in shallow waters; pointed at the tips.
Flowers: Male and female flowers appear May through July in cylindrical heads topping the straight, unbranched stems. Male flowers exist at the top of the stems above the female flowers and produce golden pollen. Female flowers appear in thick sausage-like clusters below the male flowers, first green, then dark brown, producing brown pollen.
Size/ Shape: A wetland plant which fills swampy areas and lines bodies of water in the shallows. Reaches heights of 9 feet (3 meters).

Location on Campus

(click for map)

Located along a small stream behind Massell Quadrangle on the outer side of the Peripheral Road; next to H-Lot.

The cattail is an extremely versatile plant; the roots, young shoots, young stems, flower heads, immature flower heads, pollen and rootstalks can all be eaten. In early spring, the young sprouts coming out of the rootstalks can be collected, peeled, and eaten with salads or as a cooked green after being boiled for 15 minutes. Young spring stalks, 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 centimeters) long, can be collected and eaten in the same way as the early shoots. Immature flower heads can be collected before the break out of their protective coating and boiled for several minutes, then eaten with butter like a vegetable. The golden pollen of the male flowers can be collected, dried, and mixed with wheat or white flour. In late autumn and winter, the rootstalks can be gathered, peeled, washed, crushed into a meal in a bucket of cold water to separate meat from fiber, and then dried. This meal works as an excellent white flour.

Except where specifically noted, all text, photographs, and drawings copyright Chris Bersbach and Lisa Leombruni 2002. No part of this page may be reproduced without the express permission of the authors.