Some plants look like cattails, whether they grow in wetlands or are part of the Typha genus family along with cattails. Most people confuse other plants for cattails because they have flower spikes that resemble the cottony stage of cattails.
Plants That Look Like Cattails
Cattails have dense collections of cigar-like flower spikes, which become cotton-like and fluffy once they mature and produce seeds. They also have pointed leaves and stout stalks, which help them grow in shallow water and reach heights of 8 feet. The flower spikes alone can grow to 7 inches long.
There are plenty of longtherass plants in the Wetlands that you might mistake for Cattails, especially since some of them have the characteristic flower spikes that we associate with Cattail plants.
However, it usually becomes clear that they are something else once you with the details of their leaves or the flowers bloom and have a distinctive shape from a cattail.
Also read: 10 Plants That Look Like Birds
1 Pampas Grass
Pampas grass is one of the ornamental grass types with flower spikes that resemble the cottony stage of cattails. They’re native to South America and New Zealand and grow in glass grassy clumps.
They have white feathery flowers on the end of stocks that tower above the grassy leaves of the plant. Pampas grass can quickly become invasive in North America at the end edge of native plants.
2 Sweet Flag
Sweet Flag resembles Cattails in a couple of different ways. Both Cattails and Sweet flags grow in wetlands and bear flower spikes that are tan and rod-shaped at the end of long stems. Their leaves have many similarities, growing to about 2 inches long and almost identical shapes.
However, the sweet flag has scaly flower spikes instead of having the velvety texture of cattails. The flower spikes are also green and then yellow instead of the Cattail’s characteristic tan ones. A Japanese variant of Sweet Flag is smaller and has numerous colors.
The sweet flag’s stems smell spicy or sweet when you break them, hence the name, whereas cattails smell grassy. Their sweet scent makes them a favorite for those who live around wet areas and intentionally plant sweet flags.
3 Prince’s Feather
Prince’s Feather has a few more distinguishing features that will make it easy to spot the differences between it and Cattail plants, but some similarities may make you think it is a type of cat tail.
Most of their similarities come with their flower spikes and shape of them. They both have tube-shaped flower spikes at the end of tall stems and tend to be soft and furry.
One of the most significant differences is their flowers. While cattails grow to have a tan color for their flowers, Prince’s Feathers bloom red or purple, depending on the variant.
4 Chenille Plant
The Chenille plant also has fuzzy flowers that resemble cattails. One of its colloquial names is red hot cat’s tail. This refers to the bright color of the flowers, which are deep maroon, but some variants have white flowers.
They grow in tropical regions like Malaysia and Melanesia. However, unlike cattails, the flower spikes on Chenille plants hang instead of standing up straight at the end of the stem.
5 Blue Flag Iris
It’s hard to tell the difference between a blue flag Iris and cattails before the flowers bloom, and their leaves have very similar shapes and colors and tend to grow in the same environments.
However, once the flower starts to take shape, it’s straightforward to tell the flower spike of a cattail plant from the petal flower of an Iris. You will see blossoms beginning in June.
Irises can be invasive if they grow in environments that can’t support them or aren’t challenged for resources by other species, much like cattails. They grow in similar areas, such as bogs and ponds, growing close together, making it easy to mistake the two plants.
However, you may notice an increase in pollinating insects in the area, especially once the flowers bloom since irises are a favorite with bees and butterflies. Cattails don’t produce nectar, so seeing more pollinators is a sure sign you have a different plant in the area.
6 Yellow Flag Iris
The easiest way to tell the difference between yellow flag Irises and Cattails is the shape of the leaves. Cattail leaves tend to have a more pointed end to their leaves, and the overall leaf is more comprehensive at some point, whereas the yellow flag Iris leaves have rounded edges and tend to be thinner and more uniform in shape.
However, once a yellow flag iris matures and starts to flower, the similarities to cattails diminish. Cattails don’t have petaled flowers as irises do, nor do irises have cotton-like seeds.
Yellow flag irises are native to Europe and Asia but not North America, so be careful if you see them growing in your area, as they may be pushing out native species.
A few grass plants grow in wetlands that closely resemble Cattails, even down to the flower spikes that we associate specifically with cattails.
However, they’re usually noticeable differences in the leaf shape or the flowers themselves once they bloom and take on other colors or distinct shapes. Cattails, on the other hand, have cotton-like seeds once their flower spikes bloom.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between Cattail and bulrush?
Bulrush is the British term for the Typha variety of plants. Cattail is a Typha plant, so bulrush can refer to Cattail, but other bulrush plants aren’t cattails.
How can you tell iris from cattails?
The Cattail is taller and has a flat, ribbon-like leaf with a waxy layer. Cattail leaves also don’t have a vein along the center like irises.
Are reeds and cattails the same?
Reeds and cattails are the same as part of the Typha genus family. Depending on where you are, you may also hear people use the terms bulrush, reedmace, cumbungi, or raupo.
Are cattails plants poisonous?
Cattails are not poisonous. All its parts are edible, from the roots to the seed heads. However, the leaves are more commonly used to make baskets after drying them.
Hey, I’m Lisa and I’ve been an avid gardener for over 30 years. I love writing, talking and living in the garden! Feel free to connect with me on my socials below