Beautiful Creeping Cattails

Reader Contribution by Kenneth Rust
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Cattails (Typha species) are a frequently occurring plant member along the edge of ponds, lakes, and ditches. They have such a classic look in these settings that they are included in most photographs of an aquatic setting and represented in art as well. Even my seven-year-old daughter automatically includes them in her drawings of a pond.

They are a native plant and they provide some vertical display in a pond setting, but they grow fast and need to be managed. The brown seedpod at the top of the stalk is like a very compact dandelion, producing airborne seeds including a small tuft of material that keeps them floating indefinitely. I often joke with pond owners that one pod could repopulate all of Planet Earth with cattails, because there are approximately 250,000 seeds on a single cattail head.

In addition to multiplying rapidly from seed, cattails produce large rhizomes for new, rapidly progressing growth. As cattails grow in summer and die in fall, the dead leaves provide a lot of thatch material. As the thatch decays, it provides sludge that becomes an ideal growing medium for cattails the following year. In short, each year they make their own land to grow on the following season. They can even make floating islands.

If you have cattails in the aquatic landscape, enjoy them, but don’t ignore them and your need to manage their growth.

Of course, there are EPA registered herbicides to control cattails, but strategic cutting and physical removal are viable options as well. Specifically for an ongoing management approach, try these three activities. After you have enjoyed seeing the cattail pods wave in the breeze in the summer, but before they burst into a gazillion airborne seeds, cut them off, and remove them. You may even enjoy using these for dried flower arrangements. Seed head cutting is helpful in a small stand and removes some of the potential for spread due to seed, even if you don’t get them all. The second approach is to remove the thatch after it dies in the fall, removing the medium for them to advance farther into your pond the following season. The third technique can be used anytime throughout the season, but is most effective in late spring. Cut cattail leaves off below the water line. This will kill approximately 50 percent of them, providing a way for you to thin or stop the yearly progress of cattails into your pond.

Enjoy your pond and the cattails. Just don’t let them creep up on you and the enjoyment of your pond.

Painting by Rachel.

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