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Typha latifolia L. 1753
pronounced: TY-fuh lat-ee-FOH-lee-uh
(Typhaceae – the bulrush family)
common names: Bulrush, Broadleaf Cattail
Typha τυφη (typhé), for a plant used for stuffing beds and bolsters, probably the Reed Mace, Typha angustata; latifolia is from the Latin latus, wide, and folium, a leaf. If, as I do, you associate the word ‘bulrushes’ with the baby Moses floating in the River Nile in an ark made of them, I am afraid that you’re in for a disappointment. The Hebrew word used in the Book of Exodus that is normally translated as ‘bulrushes’ is גמא (gime’), paper-reed, papyrus – Cyperus papyrus. is derived from the Greek word,
Typha latifolia is an erect, rhizomatous, semi-aquatic or aquatic perennial herb. The leaves arise directly from the base of the plant. They are erect, lineal, flat, D-shaped in cross-section, 8–20 mm wide and 90–300 cm tall, with 12–16 leaves arising from each vegetative shoot. They are pale greyish green in colour, and typically do not extend beyond the spike.
From October to January new shoots emerge from the base. The soft white part of this shoot is edible, and was eaten by the indigenous peoples.
The stem is erect, up to 300 cm tall, 1–2 cm diameter in the middle, tapering to 3–6 mm near the flower structure. The rhizomes are stout, typically 6–30 mm in diameter and up to 70 cm in length, growing 7–10 cm below the soil surface. The flower structure is a dense dark brown cylindrical spike on the end of the stout stem. The staminate portion is positioned above the pistillate portion: they are continuous or very slightly separated. The male flower is brown, minute, 5–12 mm long, thickly clustered on a club-like spadix; the anthers are 1–3 mm long. The female flower is tiny, 2–3 mm long when in flower, 10–15 mm when in fruit. The female fruiting spike is green when in flower, drying to brownish, later blackish brown or reddish brown, in fruit, often mottled with whitish patches of pistil-hair tips. The fruit is a tiny tufted nutlet, and the seeds are minute, and numerous.
Pollen is produced usually in April and May, but sometimes later. The indigenous peoples used to shake off the pollen and collect it to make flour.
The plant is distributed nearly world-wide: in North and Central America, Great Britain, Eurasia, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It can grow almost anywhere where the soil remains wet, saturated or flooded most of the growing season. Common habitats include wet meadows, marshes, fens, pond and lake margins, estuaries, roadside ditches, irrigation canals, and the backwater areas of rivers and streams. The plants photographed are growing by the mouth of the little creek that flows into the marina in Nelly Bay, by the picnic area and public lavatories. The other colony pictured is a new one near where Butlers Creek flows under Picnic Street in Picnic Bay.
Reproduction is by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes. The latter is responsible for the maintenance and expansion of existing stands, and seed dispersal is responsible for the invasion of new areas. Seed production is prolific: each spike can contain up to about 300,000 tiny seeds. At maturity, the spike bursts under dry conditions, releasing the fruits, Each fruit has bristly hairs that aid in wind dispersal. When the fruit comes into contact with water, the pericarp opens rapidly, releasing the seed, which then sinks. Seeds are capable of almost immediate germination, given the right conditions; but within established stands seedlings are practically non-existent, because light and temperature are reduced too much for good germinating conditions by the existing vegetative cover.
Leaves and stems have been used around the world as bedding, thatching and matting, and in the manufacture of baskets, boats and rafts, shoes, ropes and paper. American Indians dried the rhizomes and ground them into flour, or ate them as cooked vegetables. Young stems were eaten raw or cooked, and immature fruiting spikes were roasted. The Aboriginal peoples used the fluff from the flowering spike to dress wounds, and the watery sap from the plant was used as a protection to repel leeches.
Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2010, Picnic Bay 2017
Page last updated 22 August 2017