Though most Typha species in Florida are native, they nonetheless often grow to cover large areas of wetlands, lakes and rivers. They are among the most common of all aquatic and wetland plants anywhere. Cat-tails provide protective cover and nesting areas for animals and birds.
Cat-tails: rhizomes extensive, fleshy; stems to 9 ft. tall; leaf blades strap-like, stiff, rounded on back, spiraling in top half, sheathed together at base to appear “flattened”; inflorescence spike-like, very densely packed with tiny flowers, male flowers in top cluster, female flowers in bottom cluster.
Read about the cattail mosquito.
View the herbarium specimen image from the University of Florida Herbarium Digital Imaging Projects.
Cat-tails – Typha species
Cattails are among the most common of all aquatic plants. Two species are native to Florida: Typha domingensis (southern cattail) and Typha latifolia (common cattail). They can reach 8 or more feet tall and grow prolifically from thick, underground rhizomes. Cattails are often the dominant plant species in marshes, retention ponds, and ditches; especially where water levels fluctuate. They can cover large areas in dense monocultures. They flower in the spring and summer. Cattails get their name from their cylindrical flower spikes, which can be more than 1 foot long. When cattails are in flower, they are not easily mistaken for other aquatic plants. The flower spikes are densely packed with tiny flowers. The narrower, upper part of the spikes contains the male flowers. The bottom parts are the female flowers. Cattail leaves are strap-like and stiff, and rounded on the back. The leaves are sheaved together at their bases. Therefore, cattail leaves appear to be flattened, from the side. Leaves are straight in the bottom half, but begin to twist and spiral in the top half. Florida’s two native cattail species can be distinguished by looking at the flower spike. In Typha domingensis, southern cattail, there is a gap between the male and female flowers on the spike. In Typha latifolia, the common cattail, the male and female flowers run together on the spike, and cannot be easily distinguished.
- Cattails are named for their densely packed spikes of minute flowers.
- They can also be identified by their very tall, strap-like leaves, that are rounded on the back.