© Larry Allain, Photo courtesy of Larry Allain,
National Wetland Research Center, USGS.
Massula latifolia (L.) Dulac.
Growth Characteristics:Broadleaf cattail is an erect, rhizomatous, semiaquatic or aquatic, perennial herb. The stout rhizomes, which are located 3 to 4 inches below the soil surface, grow up to 27 inches in length and are typically 0.2 to 1.2 inches in diameter.
Broadleaf cattail seeds are capable of germinating immediately after shedding under favorable conditions, but require moist or wet substrates, warm temperatures, low oxygen concentrations, and long day-short night exposures for germination to occur. Light, temperature, and oxygen requirements for germination are best met in shallow water or on moist mudflats in vegetation-free areas. Within established broadleaf cattail stands, seedlings are practically nonexistent. This is because existing vegetative cover greatly reduces light and temperature for germination, and because cattail leaves and stems may produce allelopathic inhibitors.
Broadleaf cattail is a prolific producer of minute seeds. Each spike may contain 117,000 to 268,000 seeds. At maturity, the spike bursts under dry conditions, releasing the fruits. Each fruit has bristly hairs that aid in wind dispersal. When the fruit comes in contact with water, the pericarp opens rapidly, releasing the seed, which then sinks. In wet weather the fruits often fall to the ground in dense mats.
Leaves: Broadleaf cattail has 12-16 narrow, upright, sword-like, mostly basal green leaves. The leaves are 3/8 – 5/8 inch wide and up to 7 feet long. Leaves are alternate, long, linear, flat and sheathing. Leaf sheaths are open, cylindrical and without auricles.
Soils:Broadleaf cattail is adapted to coarse-fine textured, anaerobic soils. It grows just about anywhere that soil remains wet, saturated, or flooded most of the growing season. Cattail stands produce enormous quantities of litter. Established stands tend to grow on soils with high amounts of organic matter. Broadleaf cattail may also grow on fine-textured mineral soils, but the soils often have organic matter incorporated into at least the surface horizons.
Broadleaf cattail is considered a weed on some irrigated agricultural lands and in managed waterfowl production areas. On agricultural lands it invades irrigation canals, farm ponds, and drainage ditches, impeding water flow and increasing siltation. In marshes managed for waterfowl, it often forms dense stands which provide poor nesting habitat. Control measures include: (1) drawdown to reduce cattail and allow the establishment of species preferred by waterfowl, (2) cutting plants below the soil or water surface, (3) crushing, which immediately opens up stands making the surface water available to ducks, (4) spraying with herbicides, (5) burning, and (6) cutting, crushing, spraying, or burning in combination with water level manipulation. For best results treatment should take place when carbohydrate reserves are at a minimum. This period, when broadleaf cattail is most susceptible to injury, occurs when the pistillate and staminate portions of the spike are lime green and dark green, respectively. Furthermore, because a portion of cattail leaves must protrude above the water surface for normal gas exchange to take place, regrowth following control measures is effectively eliminated if plants are kept completely submerged. On marshes where water levels can be manipulated, a combination of drawdown followed by the control treatment and rapid reflooding results in the greatest cattail mortality.
Native Americans used broadleaf cattail as food. Rhizomes were dried and ground into flour or eaten as cooked vegetables; young stems were eaten raw or cooked; and immature fruiting spikes were eaten after roasting. The leaves were woven for matting and the "soft down" from ripe fruiting heads was used as padding and in diapers.