Cattails are a common wetland plant with the scientific name Typha with a flat blade like leaf and a flowering spike that reach 3-10 feet in height.
Two species are common in North America are the Broad Leaved Cattail (Typha latifolia) and the Narrow Leaved Cattail (Typha angustifolia).
Cattails can be used in a variety of ways including the following:
Culinary - some parts of the cattail can be used in cooking including using the underground stems and the outer portions of the young plants is eaten similar to asparagus. The seeds have been used for feed for cattle and chickens. It is not recommended to eat cattails that are not growing in clean water.
Building - some groups of native peoples in areas like Peru and Bolivia have used the plant to construct boats and rafts. In World War II the Untied States Navy used the down part of the Cattail as a substitute for kapok in life vests and aviation jackets. Additionally, the cattail has been used a thermal insulator in the construction of homes.
Paper - the stems and leaves of the cattail can be used to make a form of paper that is strong and heavy but hard to bleach. Paper made with cattail is very expensive to make and because of the cost it is limited in it's use.
Fuel - cattails are a form of starch and can be used in the production of ethanol.
Natural Building - many animals utilize the cattail for building their homes.
Candles - cattail leaves can be used to make a candle by dipping the leaf in wax and then using the leaf as a wick for the candle.
Decoration - many individuals will use cattails as a decoration around their home.
Cattails are sometimes referred to as weeds and can take over a wetland area. Each plant produces the velvet looking head which is the flower part of the plant producing over 300,000 seeds per head each with the unique ability to float through the wind to a new location in which to grow.
Removing the heads will not stop the growth of the plant however, because the roots of the plant also produce seeds which eventually create a dense coverage of the plant.
There are ways to control cattails which include chemical processes and drowning the plant by cutting it off below the water level and digging up and disposing of the cattails including all roots.
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