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Typha ssp.


Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. Chemical Analysis of Biomass Fuels
  14. References


Most species have been used in many ways by the local cultures, wherever they grow, and they are widely distributed. Rhizomes, in autumn, are rich in starch and constitute a good rootcrop. The pithy core, where rootstock and sprouting new stem join, is eaten roasted or boiled. Abenaki Indians used the juice from the roots; others extracted a jelly. Sprouts are often eaten raw or pickled (Fernald et al., 1958). Paiute ate the flower stalks, pre-pollen, raw or boiled or steamed. Fernald et al. suggest that the pre-pollen flowerstalks have a flavor suggesting both olives and artichokes. Asian Indians, like Amer-indians, are said to make bread from the pollen. The pollen is sometimes substituted for that of Lycopodium. Floss is a good kapok substitute. Leaves used in basketry.

Folk Medicine

According to Hartwell (1967–1971), the roots of Typha angustifolia are used in folk remedies for tumors in Chile and Argentina. Reported to be anodyne, anticoagulant, astringent, aphrodisiac, diuretic, emetic, hemostat, refrigerant, sedative, styptic, suppurative, tonic, uterotonic, vermifuge, and vulnerary, cattails are a folk remedy for amenorrhea, bruises, burns, cystitis, diarrhea, dropsy, dysentery, ecchymosis, epistaxis, erysipelas, fever, gonorrhea, hematochezia, hematemesis, hematuria, leucorrhea, measles, metroxenia, ophthalmia, piles, scalds, snakebite, sores, swellings, tumors, vaginitis, wounds, etc. (Duke and Wain, 1981).


Roots of Typha latifolia contain 30% starch, 7.8% crude protein, 1% crude sugar, 0.7% glucose, 0.7% oxalic acid. Aerial portions contain 1.5–3.5% fats, 7–12% crude protein, 38–48% carbohydrates. Leaves contain quercetin-3- neohesperidosid, quercetin- and kaempferol-3-glucoside, quercetin- and kaempferol-3-galactoside. The pollen, used both as a medicine and foodstuff, contains 19% crude protein, 17.8% carbohydrates (glucose, fructose, arabinose, rhamnose, xylose) and 1.1% lipids. In the seed oil, linolenic acid and glycerides predominate. The plant is said to be rich in vitamin B1, B2, and C.


Typha latifolia is a perennial herb, from a creeping rhizome, 1–2.7 m tall; leaves flat, sheathing, pale or grayish-green, 6–23 mm wide; staminate (7–13 cm long) and dark brown pistillate (2.5–20 cm long) parts of the spike usually contiguous, in fruit 1.2–3.5 cm thick, its surface appearing minutely pebbled with crowned persistent stigmas and scarcely bristly, pistillate flowers without branchlets among the bristles; stigmas lance-ovate, fleshy, persistent; denuded axis of old spike retaining slender pedicles 1–2 mm long; fruit about 1 cm long, with copious white hairs arising near the base.


Reported from American, African, and Eurasian Centers of Diversity, cattail is reported to tolerate poor soil and waterlogging. (2n = 30)


Typha latifolia is the common inland species in the USA, inhabiting marshes, shallow water, ditches, and wet wastes along river. It is said to be native throughout the United States, Eurasia, and North Africa. It has been classified as a serious weed in Hungary, a principal weed in Australia, Germany, Italy, Rhodesia, Spain, Tunisia, and a common weed in Argentina, Iran, Kenya, Portugal, and the US (Holm et al, 1979).


Ranging from tropical to cool temperate life zones, cattails tolerate annual precipitation of 4 to 40 dm and annual temperature of 6 to 28° (estimated by J. Duke, too few data in computer).


Not currently cultivated, but could be considered as a cultivar for ornament, food, or medicine by those disposed to use the plant. Propagation is usually by division, but the minute reed can be planted in pots in water.


If the rhizomes are to be harvested for energy or food, it is suggested that fall might be the best time for harvesting.

Yields and Economics

According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity for Typha latifolia ranges from 6 to 20 MT/ha, other species reporting intermediate yields. In Britain, cattail swamps are said to produce 10.7 MT/ha/yr.


In Alcohol Week (October 20, 1980), there is a headline "DOE MAY FUND CATTAILS-TO-ETHANOL TECHNOLOGY: SEES LOWER COST, BIG YIELDS". The unsolicited proposal from a Florida Junior College suggests that one cattail crop will produce 1,000–1,500 gals/acre/year, while two crops would bring 2,100 to 3,100, and three crops 3,100–4,700 gals/acre, the higher figure representing more than 110 barrels ethanol per acre. While I believe these figures are extremely optimistic, I would endorse a serious study of cattails as a potential energy source. Douglas Pratt is quoted in the Washington Star to recommend several advantages to cattails. "Since they grow in wetlands, cattails do not compete for land that could be used for crops or forests, and drainage is unnecessary. Cattails use some pollutants as nutrients. Cattail farms near sewage treatment plants could clean troublesome nitrogen and phosphorus from effluent. Unlike nuclear power and fossil fuels, cattails do not add heat and carbon dioxide to the earth but recycle them. The plants use the sun's energy and the atmosphere's carbon dioxide to produce starches and sugars through photosynthesis. This heat and gas are returned to the cycle when the cattails are used as fuel. Wetlands are extensive and largely unused. According to one estimate, the United States has 140,000 square miles of wetlands from Alaska to the tip of Florida. Minnesota is estimated to have 10 million acres where cattail could grow, which theoretically could supply enough of them to meet the state's entire energy needs. Harvesting cattails in strips is compatible with preservation of wildlife and makes replanting unnecessary. Cattails spread with underwater stems called rhizomes and each year can recover the harvested strips. Cattails are an annually renewable resource, whereas coal, oil and peat take thousands or millions of years to form." (Washington Star, September 4, 1979).

Biotic Factors

The cucumber mosaic virus has been reported from Typha angustifolia, the wheat streak mosiac from T. latifolia. Among the fungus diseases on Typha latifolia are Cladosporium, Cryptomela typhae, Didymosphaeria typhae, Gloeosporium sp., Guignardia sp., Hendersonia typhae, Heterosporium maculatum, Hymenopsis hydrophila, Leptosphaeria spp., Leptothyrium typhina, Lophodermium typhinum, Mycosphaerella typhae, Ophiobolus sp., Phoma orthosticha, Phyllosticta typhina, Pleospora typhae, Pythiogeton autossytum, Pythium helicoides, Sclerotium hydrophilum, Scolecotrichum typhae, Stagonospora typhoidearum, and Typhula latissima. The nematode Meloidogyne sp. is also reported.

Chemical Analysis of Biomass Fuels

Analysing 62 kinds of biomass for heating value, Jenkins and Ebeling (1985) reported a spread of 17.81 to 16.31 MJ/kg, compared to 13.76 for weathered rice straw to 23.28 MJ/kg for prune pits. On a % DM basis, the plant contained 71.57% volatiles, 7.90% ash, 20.53% fixed carbon, 42.99% C, 5.25% H, 42.47% O, 0.74% N, 0.04% S, 0.38% Cl, and undetermined residue.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw