Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.
- Folk Medicine
- Yields and Economics
- Biotic Factors
- Chemical Analysis of Biomass Fuels
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.
According to Hartwell (19671971), 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 1.53.5%
fats, 712% crude protein, 3848% 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, 12.7 m
tall; leaves flat, sheathing, pale or grayish-green, 623 mm wide; staminate
(713 cm long) and dark brown pistillate (2.520 cm long) parts of the spike
usually contiguous, in fruit 1.23.5 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 12 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.
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
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 1,0001,500 gals/acre/year, while two crops would bring 2,100 to 3,100,
and three crops 3,1004,700 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
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.
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
- Duke, J.A. 1981b. The gene revolution. Paper 1. p. 89150. In: Office of
Technology Assessment, Background papers for innovative biological technologies
for lesser developed countries. USGPO. Washington.
- Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index
with more than 85,000 entries. 3 vols.
- Fernald, M.L., Kinsey, A.C., and Rollins, R.C. 1958. Edible wild plants of
eastern North America. Rev. Ed. Harper & Bros., New York.
- Hartwell, J.L. 19671971. Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia 3034.
- Holm, L.G., Pancho, J.V., Herberger, J.P., and Plucknett, D.L. 1979. A
geographical atlas of world weeds. John Wiley & Sons, New York.
- Jenkins, B.M. and Ebeling, J.M. 1985. Thermochemical properties of biomass
fuels. Calif. Agric. 39(5/6):1416.
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw