Cattails luxuriating in the fertile warm (almost stagnant) water of a roadside ditch in Woodville, Florida USA.
Cattails have stiff, unbranched stems and long, erect, swordlike leaves with parallel veins. They stand 3-9' tall and are connected underground by thick rootstocks called rhizomes. The stems are topped by dense cylindrical spikes of tiny brown flowers (golden when laden with pollen) that look like sausages or cat's tails. Common cattail gets up to 9' tall and the upper, male or pollen bearing flower spike is joined to the lower, female part. Narrow leaved cattail gets up to 5' tall and there is a gap on the stem between the male and female flower spikes.
Cattails grow in dense stands in fresh or brackish marshes and around the margins of lakes, ponds and sluggish streams in temperate and tropical regions throughout the world.
Culture Light: Full sun. Moisture: Cattails grow at the water's edge, and are at their best in water less than 16" deep. They can tolerate only brief periods of drying out. Hardiness: USDA Zones 2-11. Propagation: The root stocks can be divided to produce new plants.
Cattails are best suited for use in large pools. They will spread if not contained by pond liners or deep water. Cattails provide excellent wildlife habitat. Rails, bitterns, ducks, red-winged blackbirds and other birds nest in cattail marshes.
Some think the cattail's flower spike resembles a cat's tail. It looks more like a sausage so perhaps a better name would be swamp sausage. Just a thought...
Cattails are probably the most versatile edible wild plant in North America. All parts are edible. In early spring the young shoots can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked like asparagus. In late spring the immature flower heads (while still green) can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. In early summer, the golden pollen is easily shaken off the flower spikes into a paper bag. Mixed with wheat flour, it makes an excellent protein rich flour, especially good for pancakes. From late summer through winter, small sprouts on the tips of the rhizomes can be eaten raw or cooked as a potherb. Throughout the winter, the thick rootstocks are full of starch and the core can be cooked like potatoes, or made into a snowy white flour. The leaves of cattail are used to weave baskets and chair seats and backs. The flower heads are used in arrangements. These may be sprayed with lacquer to prevent their disintegration.