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Cattails
(Genus Typha)

Their uses in the landscape and other attributes

Cattails are a hardy margin plant which can be grown in a wide range of zones (from 2 - 11) and come in a wide range of sizes from eighteen inches or less to nine feet or more. Their crown (where the stems meet the roots) can be completely submerged or they may be grown at the water's edge, where the roots reach into the wet soil.

 cattails

 Cattails - genus Typha

In the waterscape they make an excellent vertical accent, however, it is critical to use the right species and to plant them appropriately or you may soon have a field of cattails where once you had water or giant plants dwarfing your pond. Cattails are quite invasive by way of vigorous rhizomes and some species grow to be quite large. If grown in containers, however, they are much more easily restrained.

In appearance all species have blade like leaves, similar to Iris foliage and they produce distinctive catkins that look like fuzzy cigars at the end of long, smooth stems. (Apparently they also resemble to some, a cat's tail.) When fully mature, these catkins burst open to release cottony seeds which blow away.

For large ponds the taller species are suitable, such as Typha angustifolia, 'graceful cattail', which reaches to 6 feet, T. domingensis which grows 9 feet or more, and T. latifolia, to 7 feet. There is also a variegated latifolia which is quite striking, growing to about 5 feet.

 

 Variegated cattail

For smaller ponds, T. laxmannii, which reaches to about 3 feet and T minima are very snappy additions to the water garden. But as mentioned, the taller or perhaps the medium tall species can be quite dramatic near or in a small pond if grown in containers to prevent their runaway rhizomes from spreading everywhere.

To grow them in a container, in the water, simply plant them in a plastic pot and drop the pot into the pond. If submerging them only part way, make tiny holes in the bottom sides of the pot to allow water in but to keep the rhizomes in too. They do not seem to need fertilizing and will provide a handsome display for much of the year, as the catkins persist for much of the winter, if left on.

The catkins do make a fine ornament toward late summer and into fall when the stems are cut and used in dry arrangements. They can also be used in wet flower arrangements with their foliage included, and can be made to look quite good when placed into tall, slender vases.

As a final note, as kids we always looked forward to the ripening of the cat's tail. We would cut them with about two feet or so of stem and light the end of the catkin. They burn slowly and stay lit, making (what we always considered) a fine aroma with their smoke. We stuck them in the ground around us to keep the mosquitoes away.