Cattails Cattails Cattails Cattails

What are they?

Cattails superficially resemble grasses or sedges but they are readily told by their dense, brown flowering heads, carried well above the leaves. These heads are obvious for most of the year, even in the winter when the female flowers break up and eject copious amounts of fluffy seeds.

Where are they found?

Cattails are an abundant and often dominant constituent of many wetland habitats.


Two species occur in Cape May County, which are easily told apart. However the situation is compounded by the fact that the two species hybridize readily, so care should be taken to check all identification features. Male and female flowers occur separately on the same stalk; male flowers above, females below. Male flowers soon wither and fall away, but female flowers persist as the familiar brown cattail.

Common Cattail      Typha latifolia

(Broad-leaved Cattail) Common and probably increasing species, found especially in disturbed wetlands, such as sand and gravel pits and habitat-managed sites. Note the lack of a gap between male and female flowers. Flowers May to July.
Common Cattail Common Cattail Common Cattail
Leaf & flower on right
Leaf broad,
flower dark brown
Flower at top, note
lack of green stem
Seeding head

Narrow-leaved Cattail      Typha angustifolia

A common species throughout Cape May County in wetlands, most notably near the coast where it shows tolerance for slightly salty, as well as fresh water. Though generally considered native in North America,there is a certain amount of historical evidence to suggest that this species may have been introduced to the eastern USA from Europe and gradually spread westward. Note the gap between the male and female flowers, which persists as a green section of stem even after the male flowers have withered away. Flowers June to July.
Narrow-leaved Cattail Narrow-leaved Cattail Narrow-leaved Cattail
Leaf & flower on left
Leaf narrow, flower rusty
Flower at bottom,
note green stem
Seeding head

Hybrid Cattail      Typha x glauca

The species of cattail are known to hybridize readily, producing offspring that are intermediate in appearance between the two parents. Such hybrids are almost always sterile, but hybrids can become very common and dominant as they spread vegetatively by rhizomes and many such hybrid seedlings often show typical hybrid vigor, producing individuals that are larger and stronger than either parent. In areas where much habitat disturbance has taken place, such as at Cape May Point State Park and The Nature Conservancy's Migratory Bird Refuge, vigorous hybrids dominate and probably result in species-poor habitats. Flowers June to July.
Hybrid Cattail Hybrid Cattail
Typical hybrid:
Large, dark-flowered
& with gap in flowers