Typha latifolia is an aquatic, perennial, herbaceous plant that grows up to 2.5 m tall. It is an obligate wetland species, meaning it will always be found rooted in or near water. The leaves are basal and cauline with thin, parallel veins. Inflorescences are spike-like or of spheric, unisexual heads of staminate and pistillate flowers. The staminate flowers have proximally fused filaments. The pistillate flowers are composed of 1 pistil with an ovary superior and 1 to 2 ovules. This species blooms from May to June.
When young, the erect shoots of Typha latifolia are unique to other species because the proximal leaves spread widely creating a fan-like appearance.
Storage starch granules from this species are up to 8 microns in length and 4 to 5 microns on average. They range from circular to oval, often with irregular margins and slightly eccentric hilum. Generally, the more rounded granules have a symmetric cross and granules with irregular margins are more eccentric and likely to have an asymmetric cross with bent arms.
Starch granules from seeds are found in aggregates. Individual granules are up to 4 microns in length and 2 microns on average. They are extremely variable in shape and character with irregular margins, eccentric hila, bent arms and asymmetrical quadrants.
Typha latifolia can be found in many climates at elevations from sea level to 2300 m. It is generally grows in wetlands, riparian, meadows, and freshwater marshes.
This species is widely distributed across the United States.
Typha latifolia was consumed in multiple ways by cooking the roots and seeds, using the pollen in bread, grounding the seeds to make flour, soup, and mush, and eating the roots dried or raw. Typha latifolia was also used to create shelter, snowshoes, and baskets.
Northern Paiute: "They considered cat-tail (toib) seeds edible, although the root was a more important food. Cat-tail stalks were spread on the ground, fired, and the seeds gathered. These were shelled by being worked lightly on the metate and after this were prepared like other seeds." (Kelly 1932:99)
Northern Paiute: "Roots of young tule and cat-tail were gathered, broken open, and the white meat eaten uncooked. It was not dried." (Kelly 1932:103)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of toib (cattail, Typha latifolia, Typha domingensis)] Take the long stem and spread the fuzz and set it on fire. Keep on working it with a stick until the fuzz is burnt and leaves only the seed. They cook it that way. This is the same thing as toi tsma; the cattail is tsma. Instead of burning toib, it could be cleansed in a parching tray with hot coals shaken back and forth. The seeds drop through just as if it were a sieve leaving the fuzz in the tray. Cooking of the seeds is also accomplished by this process." (Fowler 1989:48)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of toib (cattail, Typha latifolia, Typha domingensis)] toi, the yellow powder of the cattails (pollen) is called toitsma. It is gathered into a dough which is kneaded. The dough is made into flat cakes and roasted under hot coals. When it is roasted the cake is taken out and the ashes are knocked off with a stick. This bread is called kosino'hop." (Fowler 1989:48)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of toib (cattail, Typha latifolia, Typha domingensis)] toi is cattail. The top part is sima. The small part above the cattail is broken off when it is green in color. It is then ripe. It is eaten fresh and uncooked. The seed of the cattail which is found under the fur of the cattail is gathered and spread on a cloth. In the sun it opens up and fur is peeled off. Then the cattail is burned in a fire which leaves only the seeds. The seeds are cleaned by winnowing and ground on the metate into fine flour. The flour is boiled and made into a round cake which is dried in the sun. The long root of the cattail is also eaten. It is pulled up and the skin is peeled. It is chewed and the juice swallowed. The pulp which is stringy is spat out." (Fowler 1989:48)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of toib (cattail, Typha latifolia, Typha domingensis)] Cattail (toi) was used for food. The top part is gathered by breaking it off. The cotton-like stuff is burned off carefully so the seeds drops off but is not burned. The seeds are ground after cooking with hot stones in a basket. They are ground in a mortar. Mush is not made of the seeds nor was it cooked. It was eaten in a powder form and water drunk with it." (Fowler 1989:48)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the seeds of toib (cattail, Typha latifolia, Typha domingensis)] The seeds of the cattail are ground into meal and made into soup. The bushpart of the cattail stalk is cut or pulled from the plant. It is then thoroughly dried. A fire is built on hard ground and the cattails are put in the fire. They are stirred with two sticks. When all the fuzz is burnt off the seeds are left in the ashes. They are separated by winnowing. These seeds are gotten in the summer." (Fowler 1989:48)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the leaves and stems of saib (tule, Scirpis acutus)] The root of the saib is used for food. It is eaten raw." (Fowler 1989:49)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the leaves and stems of toi (cattail, Typha latifolia, Typha domingensis)] The roots of all the toi (cattail) are taken from the water. The skin is taken off and the inside chewed when fresh. They taste sweet. The roots may be dried. They are broken and split into strips. The strips were dried by putting them on greasewood. This keeps the juice in the roots. The brush was burned and the strips moved so they would not burn. Then they are put into baskets to finish drying. Dried pieces were ground into flour and made into mush. This mush also tasted sweet." (Fowler 1989:49)
Klamath, Modoc: "[In regards to roots made into bread] Cattail root bread baked in earth oven." (Voegelin 1942:178)
Northern Paiute: "For burns, tüba'süp or a powder of burned cat-til pods was helpful." (Kelly 1932:196)
Modoc: "[In regards to cranial deformation] 2 pads, stuffed with cattail down, bound on infant's head, front and back." (Voegelin 1942:217)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the leaves and stems of saib (tule, Scirpis acutus)] The tule is used for houses. Both kinds are used for houses [cattail and tule]." (Fowler 1989:49)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to making the winter house] A willow frame was built in a circle-8 to 14 ft in diameter. The frame was called maiwɔməsubi (maiwɔmə, to put up; subi, willow)...Tule mats (sigwatu) were made by drying tule (toi) [Typha latifolia] and putting them across four willow sticks evenly spaced...The fire was built on the ground in the middle of the floor space. Greasewood was burned. Sagebrush bark was used as a mattress." (Fowler 1989:92)
Northern Paiute: "Houses were located in the valleys. Stalks of toi (cattail) were used to cover the houses. The stalks were tied in bunches about 6 in. thick. Each bundle was tied in three places with willow bark. The bunches of tule are placed on the willow frame of the house, fastened to the poles with willow bark split in halves...The men tie the tule together, and the women help lift them up to put on the walls... Both men and women gather the tule. Saib [Scirpus acutus] has round stems and cannot be used so well for houses. Only toi [Typha latifolia] is used to build houses." (Fowler 1989:93)
Northern Paiute: "[In regards to overshoes or snowboots] A wide sandal, "something like an overshoe" was made of tule (toi)...Sagebrush bark was stuffed between this tule overshoe and the moccasin." (Fowler 1989:107)
As a tool
Northern Paiute: "Arrows were of rose (tsia'bi), currant (poho'nobi), service (wükwü'kobü), tüa'bi, and possibly of young cat-tail (toibü)." (Kelly 1932:143)
Klamath: "The basketry of the Klamath and Modoc, which is always twined, may be classified under two heads: soft or pliable basketry and stiff or rigid basketry. The former predominates very largely and all the finer baskets are made in this manner. The materials used for this sort of basketry are as follows. The skin of the leaves of the cat-tail tule form the white material which is used as the groundwork of almost all of the finer baskets. The skin of the circular tule is also used for the same purpose. It may be so cured as to have a greenish or a yellowish color. It may also be dyed by means of a mixture of blue mud and wokas shucks to a dead black. All this material is used as weft, the warp being the twisted brown skin of the circular tule.....Designs are usually worked out in the reddish brown roots of the tule, thought the outer leaf skin of a certain jointed rush which provides a shiny, creamywhite material is also used." (Barrett 1910:253-254)