Swaying over the children who splash in the water feature, across from the visitors reveling in the sun on the deck chairs, the graceful cattails bloom on the High Line.
Where is it from?
A marginal wetland species native to Europe and Asia, Typha laxmannii is monoecious, meaning both male and female reproductive parts are present on each individual plant. There are actually two sets of tiny, densely packed flowers on each stem. The yellow-brown flowers near the top of the stem are the male flowers; the yellow-green female flowers lie one or two inches below. Once the pollen has fallen from the male flowers onto the female flowers, the male flowers shrivel and fall away from the stem. The female flowers are left to mature into the familiar fuzzy brown cattails—the seed-bearing fruits of the plant.
What’s in a name?
Typha laxmannii is known as the graceful cattail for its small stature and fine texture. Other species of cattail can grow up to 10 feet tall—very impressive for plants growing at the edge of a majestic lake, but rather unwieldy for the High Line’s small wetland planting or an urban garden. Typha laxmannii grows only to three feet, making it an excellent choice for backyard ponds or rain gardens. These cattails thrive in any sunny spot where the soil is regularly saturated and never quite dries out—perfect for the poorly drained areas that are usually a problem spot in gardens.
How does it grow?
Cattails are a ubiquitous wetland plant, to put it nicely. They are one of nature’s most successful plant species. They are able to survive submerged in water because of the highly developed air channels in their leaves and stems, called aerenchyma, which deliver oxygen to the root systems. Cattails are also expert propagators, reproducing sexually by wind-blown seed, but they spread most vigorously by rhizomatous root systems. While cattails certainly play a role in healthy wetlands ecosystems, they can quickly take over when systems are disturbed or soils are enriched with nutrients from agricultural runoff.
Monocultures of cattail, even our native cattails such as Typha latifolia and Typha angustifolia, are common across the country, and often populations must be managed through conservation and restoration initiatives. On the High Line, Typha laxmannii‘s roots are contained in raised metal planters, 30 feet above the city and well away from the shoreline.
Where to see this plant
The graceful cattails, Typha laxmannii, can be found growing next to the water feature between 14th and 15th Streets on the High Line.
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