Cattails, more specifically the broadleaf cattail, Typha latifolia, is the kind of plant that I recognize without any hesitation. I don’t live around marshy areas and I don’t see these plants with any regularity, but when I do encounter them, I immediately think ‘cattails’. I must have absorbed this knowledge as a child, perhaps because the seedhead looks like a big corny dog, which I loved as a kid until I puked one at an overheated Garth Brooks concert (sorry, other people in the crowd…). But, though I may have more or less outgrown my appreciation for fried hot dogs and Okie singers, that didn’t keep me from looking at the grassy-leaved plants turning brown by Spring Creek and mentally saying, ‘look, cattails.’
I don’t really think this plant even resembles the tail of a cat at all, but that’s because I’ve never noticed the flower in June (see this illuminating post on Naturespeak). This species can also be called common bulrush or great reedmace. Utah State University has a website that explains the flowers and seeds: “Yellowish male (staminate) flowers are located at the top of the inflorescence and greenish female (pistillate) flowers are located underneath….Flowers bloom in summer and after bloom the male flowers rapidly disperse, leaving a naked stalk tip. The pollinated female flowers turn brown as the seeds mature, forming the familiar cylindrical, sausage-like, cattail fruiting spike (to 9” long in this species).”
This plant is native to all states except Hawaii and can also be found throughout the world. It typically grows in or near shallow water and can hybridize with other species.