Broadleaf Cattail (Typha latifolia)

Broadleaf cattail, Elm Rock Farm, July 2017

Other Common Names:

  • Bulrush, common cattail, great reedmace


  • Erect, unbranched perennial, wetland plant, 90cm-2.75m tall.
  • Stem just below the flower is 3-7mm thick, and middle stem is 1-2cm thick.
  • Leaves are lanceolate (very long and narrow, with a pointed tip), up to 25mm wide, nearly flat.


  • Monecious (individual plants have both male and female flowers), with male flowers in a spike at the top of the plant, and the female flower spike just below, the male and female spikes usually touching, with no gap between. Flower spikes are less than 15cm long.
  • Female flowers mature prior to male flowers, allowing self-pollination.
  • Seeds are cottony, dispersed by wind and water
  • Reproduces via seed, and by rhizome sprouts, creating clonal stands.
Last year’s dead cattail surrounding the dugout at Elm Rock Farm, April 2020

Similar Species:

  • Narrow-leaf Cattail (Typha angustifolia)
    • Stem directly below flower is 2-3mm thick, while that of broadleaf cattail are 3-7mm.
    • Leaves of narrow-leaf cattail are up to 12mm wide and rounded, while leaves of broad-leaf cattail are up to 25mm wide, and nearly flat.
    • Male and female flowers of broad-leaf cattail are touching, while there is a gap between the flowers on narrow-leaf cattail.
  • Hybrid Cattail
    • Flower spike is usually at least 15cm long, and male and female flowers are separated by a gap. Flower spike of broad-leaf cattail are less than 15cm, and male and female flower spikes are touching.

Ecological Role:

  • Muskrats feed extensively on the roots and rhizomes.
  • Provides food and shelter for many waterfowl, marsh birds, and small mammals.


  • Rhizomes
  • Stems (peeled) can be eaten raw (cucumber-like taste and texture)
  • Young shoots
  • Young flower spikes
  • Pollen
  • Cattail draws in contaminants from whatever body of water it is growing in. Don’t consume unless you have confirmed that the water source is safe.

Other Uses:

  • Cotton-like seeds was used by indigenous Americans as a fire starter, insulation, bedding, diapers, etc.
  • Leaves were used to make mats, baskets, shelters.
  • Early European settlers used the stems to make candles.


  • “Typha” is Latin, derived from the Ancient Greek word for cattail.
  • “Latifolia” is Latin for “broad-leaved.”


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