January 26, 2020

Split Personality

Typha latifolia - Common cattail

Janine Pineo Photo | Typha latifolia – Common cattail

Typha latifolia can always been found with wet feet, which isn’t quite the story for the animal that’s part of its common name: cattail. This native plant can grow up to 10 feet in height and looks like giant blades of grass, until that unmistakable velvety brown spike rises up. Used by many native Americans, cattail was a source of food and medicine. The rhizome is edible after being cooked and peeled, while the stems and leaf bases and even the flowers are also edible. And that split personality? In the Northern Hemisphere, cattails can be invasive and are reported as such in some areas, but they have been threatened in recent decades by purple loosestrife, which can rapidly replace the cattails that provide value to wildlife. However, in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia classifies T. latifolia as a noxious weed because it has become so invasive. It even has its own name in native Australian dialect: cumbungi.