Cattails starting to bloom in the Tucker mini-prairie rain garden

brown flower spike

Typha sp. young inflorescence spike. Male flowers at the top of the spike and female flowers at the bottom.

Typha sp., commonly known as cattails, are water-loving plants found in the Typhaceae family. They grow very well in shallow water at the edges of ponds. The Tucker mini-prairie has a small stand of cattails in the rain garden on the northwest side. These cattails are getting ready to bloom, and already have a developing spike inflorescence.

Cattails grow from underground rhizomes, which are edible (rice & corn have a similar protein content). Actually many parts of a cattail plant are edible, including the flowering stalk. Cattails have tall, stiff, linear leaves, often used as nesting sights for certain birds like the Redwing Blackbird. Cattails have incredibly unusual brown-colored spike inflorescences of unisexual flowers. These are monoecious (meaning the male and female flowers occur on the same plant, but in different places on the plant, like corn), with the male flowers located at the top of a narrow spike and the female flowers occurring below the male spike on a much wider spike. Once pollination occurs, the seed heads ripen and disintegrate into cotton-like fluff (this fluff is highly water resistant and has been used in life vests, building insulation, and by birds to line their nests). The cottony seed is then dispersed by the wind.

There are pros and cons associated with growing cattails as well. Cattails filter runoff, they help prevent shoreline erosion, and they provide habitat for nesting birds. The biggest con being their aggressive growth habit. Cattails can choke out the growth of other native wetland plants like sedges.

cattails in the Tucker mini-prairie rain garden

Cattails in the Tucker mini-prairie rain garden