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The Incredibly Usable Cattail

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The Incredibly Usable Cattail

Is it possible that cattails were the reeds in which baby Moses was hidden? Their range does include nearly all the continents. And even though cattails are wide ranging, commonly known plants, few know of their versatility. Nearly the entire plant can be eaten, excluding the leaves. Cattails were used many different ways medicinally, from a topical ointment to an internal remedy. The plants have also been used in a wide variety of miscellaneous purposes. Mostly, they have been used for weaving, but they also have been used for filling and more (Coon 1960).

Although taxonomists have historically had trouble defining a couple species, North American cattail nomenclature is fairly straightforward. Cattails are monocots of the order Typhales, subdivided into two families: Sparganiaceae or the bur-reed family and Typhaceae. Typhaceae, the cattail family, is comprised only of the genus Typha. Four species of Typha occur in North America.

The four North American cattails are: T. latifolia, T. angustifolia, T. glauca, and T. domengensis. T. latifolia has a range including Europe and Asia (Mohlenbrock 1970). In North America, it ranges widely from Alaska, through Canada, throughout the U.S. and into Mexico (Hotchkiss & Dozier 1949). It is common in every county in Illinois (Mohlenbrock 1970). T. angustifolia grows in Africa, Europe, and Asia (Mohlenbrock 1970). In North America, it ranges from the Northeast to the Midwest and also California (Hotchkiss & Dozier 1949). In Illinois it occurs throughout most of the state (Mohlenbrock 1970). Besides North America, T. qlauca and T. domengensis are also found in Europe. These two however, do not occur in Illinois. In the U.S., T. glauca ranges from the upper Midwest and Northeast down the Altantic coast to Florida and into Alabama. It also occurs in California. T. domengensis, being well adapted to brackish waters, grows along the coast from Delaware to Mexico and also occurs in the Southwest.

Many common names are used for cattails. T. latifolia goes by the name broadleaf cattail, common cattail and soft flag. T. angustifolia has been called narrow leaf cattail and nail rod. Blue cattail and blue flag describe T. glauca. T. domengensis is commonly known as southern cattail. Other names include flagtail, marsh beetle, blackcap, water torch and candlewick, cat-of-nine tails and reed mace (Coon 1960). Some Native American names have been translated as prairie chicken feathers, eye itch, and roof grass.

Typha's wide range can be accounted for by several features both physiologically and anatomically.
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