A Study In Cattails

When I think of wetlands, the image that first comes to mind is cattails (Typha angustifolia). Our home and property, which I named Marshview, is surrounded on three sides by wetlands. A wetland is a land area that is saturated with water and is a distinct ecosystem. Our wetlands do not support fish since they only have standing water during the spring thaw and rains. In the summer, the wetland soil is thick and mucky. They may fill up with water come fall. In the winter, the wetland soil freezes making it easy for us to hike in them.
Every ecosystem has its foundation plant. Bluestem grasses in prairies; oaks and maples in the eastern deciduous forests; and the prickly pear cactus in the North American desert. In my wetland ecosystem, the cattail is the foundation plant.

Cattails in September

Cattails need wet feet to grow and they thrive in areas where water is less than two feet deep. They spread their seeds with the wind and also via rhizomes so they can quickly take over an area thus gardeners with ponds may not be very fond of cattails.

Mallards in the wetland in the spring

Cattails grow up to 10 feet tall, though they grow to about half that at Marshview. They grow in dense clumps that look like very tall blades of grass until the telltale brown ‘cattail’ appears. The thick clumps make perfect cover for the animals that live in the wetland, such as mallards and Canada Geese. In the spring, frogs lay their eggs in the water around the cattails stems. Deer, raccoons, and turkey use cattails as cover. Muskrats eat the stems and also use the stems to build their dens. Birds use the downy seed material to line their nests. Red-winged blackbirds build their nests in cattails clumps.

Canada Geese visit the wetland in spring

Cattails are a rather humble plant, but because I have cattails growing around Marshview I am able to enjoy the beautiful wildlife that lives and visits my garden

© 2012, Mary Pellerito. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Nice post, Mary. I was transported back to my Midwest childhood… In wintertime, the marshes would freeze up, and cat tails would stick up through the ice. My brothers would clear some of the cat tails so we could ice skate. I am still very fond of the cat tails, such interesting and rugged plants. I did not know the muskrats used the stems for their dens.
    Kathy @nativegardener recently posted..Where To Go To See Native Plants in California?

  2. says

    Yes, cattails are one of those childhood memories that are with me always. They do look scraggly at times, but the wildlife and the wonderful songs that come from marshy areas is ideal for draining away stress. In fact, I have two tall vases in my office with several tails in them. Throughout the year, I fill the vases with everlasting flowers and supplement with other vases filled with wildflowers or various flowers from my garden. Truly a delight!

  3. says

    No cattails here YET! The planted some around a nearby retention pond so I suspect I’ll be endowed with some via bird, and I will welcome them.

    Love your mallard ducks. I use to have many on the “dirty lil creek” that I lived on when I lived in NY. Alas, they don’t seem to venture as far south as Florida. Fond memories of the gang walking on the ice for a cracked corn handout.

    thanks for sharing about your wetlands
    Loret recently posted..New Life List Dragonfly


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