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Cat-O-Nine Tails

Moorhead, Minnesota

August 12, 2021

I saw a ton of these plants along the highway in North Dakota. Somehow I pulled out a memory of enough of their name to type it into a Google search and have Google do the thinking for me. (Cat-o-nine-tail is also a kind of whip).

Here's what I learned:

Typha latifolia (broadleaf cattail, bulrush, common bulrush, common cattail, cat-o'-nine-tails, great reedmace, cooper's reed, cumbungi) is a perennial herbaceous plant in the genus Typha. It is found as a native plant species in North and South America, Europe, Eurasia, and Africa. In Canada, broadleaf cattail occurs in all provinces and also in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and in the United States, it is native to all states except Hawaii. It is an introduced and invasive species, and is considered a noxious weed, in Australia and Hawaii. It has been reported in Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.


The plant is(5 to 10 feet high and it has ¾ to 1½ inch broad leaves, and will generally grow out in to 2 to 3 feet of water depth.


Typha latifolia has been found in a variety of climates, including tropical, subtropical, southern and northern temperate, humid coastal, and dry continental. It is found at elevations from sea level to 7,500 feet.

T. latifolia is an "obligate wetland" species, meaning that it is always found in or near water The species generally grows in flooded areas where the water depth does not exceed 2.6 feet but has also been reported growing in floating mats in slightly deeper water. T. latifolia grows mostly in fresh water but also occurs in slightly brackish marshes. The species can displace other species native to salt marshes upon reduction in salinity. Under such conditions the plant may be considered aggressive since it interferes with preservation of the salt marsh habitat.

T. latifolia shares its range with other related species, and hybridizes with Typha angustifolia, narrow-leaf cattail, to form Typha × glauca (T. angustifolia × T. latifolia), white cattail.

Common cattail is usually found in shallower water than narrow-leaf cattail.


Traditionally, Typha latifolia has been a part of certain indigenous cultures of British Columbia, as a source of food, medicine, and for other uses. The rhizomes are edible after cooking and removing the skin, while peeled stems and leaf bases can be eaten raw or cooked. The young flower spikes, young shoots, and sprouts at the end of the rootstocks are edible as well. The pollen from the mature cones can be used as a flavoring. The starchy rootstalks are ground into meal by Native Americans.

While Typha latifolia grows all over,[clarification needed] including in rural areas, it is not advisable to eat specimens deriving from polluted water as it absorbs pollutants and in fact is used as a bioremediator. Specimens with a very bitter or spicy taste should not be eaten.

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