Typha angustifolia (Narrow-leaved Cattail)
|Also known as:|
|Habitat:||sun; wet; marshes, wetlands, along pond and stream edges|
|Bloom season:||May - July|
|Plant height:||3 to 10 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Separate staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers on the same plant (monoecious). Thousands of yellowish male flowers are in a dense, slender spike up to 8 inches long at the tip of the stem. Below the male spike is a female spike about as long and wide, with thousands of female flowers, the spike light green at flowering time turning dark brown to reddish-brown in fruit. There is a gap between the two spikes ½ to 6 inches long, rarely shorter.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are basal and alternate, stiff, strap-like, flat, green, up to ½ inch (4 to 12 mm) wide, the uppermost leaves usually rising well above the flowering spikes. The sheath has a narrow band of translucent, papery edging, and the tip of the sheath where it meets the blade is rounded like the top of an ear (auricled), especially the upper leaves. Stems are single, erect, stout, light green and unbranched. Vegetative colonies are often formed from spreading rhizomes.
The male flowers wither away after pollen release and eventually drop off altogether. Pistillate spikes expand to nearly 1 inch (2.2 cm) thick at maturity, each flower producing a single seed attached to a stalk with long white hairs. The spikes can burst, allowing the seed to be carried off in the wind, or persist mostly intact through winter. When the fluff is removed what remains on the stem are the stalks of individual flowers, known as "compound pedicels", which are stubby and somewhat variable in length.
Cattails are ubiquitous and easily recognizable by their thick, cylindrical spikes. They are commonly found in wet ditches, in the shallow waters of lake and pond edges, in marshes, wet meadows and almost anywhere else soil is saturated. The origin of T. angustifolia is murky, some references claiming it is native to salt marshes on the east coast of North America and made its way west from there, others claiming is was introduced from Eurasia. In either case, it is not native to Minnesota; only Typha latifolia (Broad-leaved Cattail) holds that distinction. A third species, T. x glauca (Hybrid Cattail) is a cross between the two and may well be more common here than either parent.
Telling the 3 apart is not always straight forward. Generally speaking, T. angustifolia has pistillate spikes that are less than 1 inch (to 2.2 cm) thick in fruit, there is a distinct gap between the staminate and pistillate spikes, widest leaves are not more than ½ inch (1.2 cm) broad and the sheaths tend to be auricled at the tip, especially the upper leaves. T. latifolia has thicker spikes up to 1½ inches (to 3.6 cm) wide in fruit, widest leaves consistently more than ½ inch wide, the sheaths are more tapered or shouldered at the tip, and the two spikes rarely have a gap between them. T. x glauca is more difficult, as it can be intermediate between its parents or take on characteristics of either one, with broad or narrow leaves and spikes, with or without a gap between spikes.
The shape of the compound pedicels on T. latifolia reminds me of the Empire State Building, complete with the long lightning rod at the tip. By comparison, those of both T. angustifolia and T. x glauca are shorter and stubbier, more like little mountains, having only 1 to 3 tiers and without the bristle at the tip, though I believe T. x glauca may have a few bristles.
There is one other notable distinction: T. latifolia tends to play well with its neighbors, usually forming small or loose colonies, where the two non-natives are more prone to forming large, dense monocultures. And when push comes to shove, does it really matter which of the two invasive cattails you have?
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- Narrow-leaved Cattail plants
- a small colony of Narrow-leaved Cattail
- leaves rise well above the spikes
- gap between spikes is up to 6 inches long
- comparison of Typha angustifolia and T. latifolia leaves
- growing together: T. latifolia and T. angustifolia, or one (or both) T. x glauca?
- compound pedicels are similar to Typha x glauca
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Aitkin, Anoka and Cass counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin and Anoka counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?