- Name also: Common Bulrush, Cat’s-tail, Broadleaf Cattail, Common Cattail, Great Reedmace
- Family: Cattail Family – Typhaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock horizontal, creeping.
- Height: 100–200 cm (40–80 in.). Stem unbranched, glabrous.
- Flower: Inflorescence compact, cylindrical, 2-parted terminal spike. Flowers very small. Male flowers on upper part of inflorescence, female flowers below; male and female flower parts attached. Female flowers blackish brown, 8–20 cm (3.2–8 in.) long, 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in.) thick. Tepals hairy. Stamens 1–8, stigmas club-like. Pistils 1.
- Leaves: Alternate, mostly on bottom of stem, stalkless, long-sheathed. Blade 10–20 mm (0.4–0.8 in.) wide, linear, quite rigid, spongy, light bluish green.
- Fruit: Achene.
- Habitat: Shores, ditches, ponds, excavation sites. In shallow water or sometimes on wet land.
- Flowering time: July–August.
Common bulrush is an impressive and attention-grabbing shore plant. The plant’s truncheon-like inflorescence has inspired many nicknames, some of them quite unprintable! People’s eagerness to invent new names for it can be at least partly explained by the wide range of uses that the plant used to have: young shoots and flowers were eaten as vegetables, the stout rootstock was ground and mixed with flour or boiled into a syrup, the seeds could be pressed for oil, the carpels’ soft fluff could be used as insulation or for stuffing pillows, the leaves and stems yield fibre, the leaves could seal the seams in wooden dishes, and the shoots made an excellent cattle fodder. A newer use is to put the ornamental inflorescence in a vase. If the dried truncheon is not treated it will collapse into a mess of seeds and perianth hairs, but this can be prevented by painting it with furniture polish or glycerol.
Common bulrush is one of the plants that have benefitted most from human activity in Finland. It has become abundant everywhere, especially over the last 20 years, and it is always spreading to new habitats: the species’ light seeds fly on the wind in the autumn and winter to man-made wetlands, such as ditch banks.
Lesser bulrush (T. angustifolia) also grows in Finland. It has narrower leaves and favours deeper water. The species are easy to differentiate during their flowering time as the staminate and pistillate flowers in lesser bulrush’s somewhat thin inflorescence are clearly separate.
Use of Cattails by California Indians
Every part of the cattails that grow in vast marshes was used by California Indians in their daily lives. Roots were steamed as a starchy vegetable; tender shoots were eaten raw; flower and seed heads were roasted. Roots and pollen were made into a flour. Baby baskets were lined with fluff from seed heads.
From the guide in San Francisco botanical carden