Classification Hierarchy
Kingdom Plantae
Subkingdom Tracheophyta
Superdivision Spermatophyta
Division Magnoliophyta
Class Liliopsida
Subclass Commelinidae
Order Typhales
Family Typhaceae
Genus Typha
Species Typha latifolia
Common cat-tail

Date: June 2, 2012. Location: Sand lake (map)

USDA Plant Profile Flora of N. America

Scientific Name: Typha latifolia

Common Name: Common cat-tail

Origin: Native

Notes: In SE Iowa, two species of Typha (T. angustifolia and T. latifolia) and a hybrid between these two have been reported as common. Because 1) structural features change during development, 2) genetic plasticity allows variation within species, and 3) because the hybrid has features intermediate between the two parents—it can be difficult to distinguish between them. [See comment section below potos, and comparisons: by photo, and by table]

Additional references: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

Field Marks for Identification:

Flowers: June; inflorescence; a single flower stalk supports two single sex spikelets (henceforth spikes), most distal is the staminate spike below which, and separated by less than 2 cm of naked floral stem, is the pistillate spike (often there is no space between the two spikes); staminate flowers deciduous, pistillate flowers densely packed, individual carpels and carpodia with hairy stems (gynophores), stigmas tongue shaped - maturing from hyaline to green to brown/black; fruit, a fusiform follicle which splits in water to release a single seed. The carpodium is a structure unique to Typha. It seems to have evolved from a modified embryo.

Leaves: linear, becoming flat at half its length, widest leaves exceed 10 mm, leaves usually glaucous when fresh, mucilage glands at sheath-blade transition usually colorless, absent on blade.

Glossaries of botanical terms: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Common cat-tail-1 Common cat-tail-2 Common cat-tail-3 Common cat-tail-4 Common cat-tail-5 Common cat-tail-6 Common cat-tail-7 Common cat-tail-8 Common cat-tail-9 Common cat-tail-10 Common cat-tail-11 Common cat-tail-12 Common cat-tail-13 Common cat-tail-14 Common cat-tail-15 Common cat-tail-16 Common cat-tail-17 Common cat-tail-18 Common cat-tail-19 Common cat-tail-20 Common cat-tail-21 Common cat-tail-22 Common cat-tail-23 Common cat-tail-24

Comments: A cursory distinction can be made between the three types based only on the largest leaf width and the space between the two spikes - with T. angustifolia having a leaf width less than 10 mm and a distance between the two spikes of more than 2 cm (usually much more), and with T. latifolia having a leaf width greater than 10 mm and little (less than 2 cm) or no space between the two spikes. A third distinction can be made under mangnification (10x - 40x). The stigmas on the surface of the pistillate spike are linear and look like reddish-brown threads for T. angustifolia, on T. latifolia they are flattened and lance shaped.. A more reliable identification can be made from microscopic features best described on the FNA webpage. for this plant. The photos above are offered to help you negotiate the text on that site.

The published literature on the cat-tail family is extensive and a good sampling of the best papers and books can be found on the Typhaceae page of the Flora of North America (FNA) web site. Since I needed more than a little help making sense of the morphology of the cat-tails, I would like to acknowledge the help of four individuals who provided more than a little patience to help me through it; S. Galen Smith, Ray Tallent, Robert Wernerehl, and Kelly Kearns.