Importance of Cattails in Wetlands (Audio Described)

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Detailed Description

Cattail (Typha) is an iconic emergent wetland plant found worldwide. By producing an abundance of wind-dispersed seeds, cattail can colonize wetlands across great distances, and its rapid growth rate, large size, and aggressive expansion results in dense stands in a variety of aquatic ecosystems such as marshes, ponds, lakes, and riparian areas. These dense stands impact local plant and animal life, biogeochemical cycling, and wetland hydrology, which in turn alter wetland functions. Over recent decades, the distribution and abundance of cattail in North America has increased as a result of human disturbances to natural water cycles and increased nutrient loads. In addition, highly competitive nonnative and hybrid taxa have worsened the rapid spread of cattail. Because cattail invasion and expansion often change wetlands in undesirable ways, wetland managers often respond with widespread management efforts, though these efforts may have short-lived or weak effects. Despite the negative impacts, cattail provides beneficial ecosystem services including the reduction of pollution through bioremediation and the production of biofuel material. A diverse team of researchers produced a paper that details the spread and management of cattail throughout North America ( This video highlights the primary topics covered in the paper.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:04:55

Location Taken: ND, US

Video Credits

Video production: SciAni
Voiceover: Errin Mixon


Scene 0: The USGS logo appears on the screen. This video describes the importance of cattails in wetlands.

Scene 1: The scene shows a wetland on a sunny day, home to abundant wildlife. Herons fish under the shade of trees, ducks swim and fish leap from the water. Cattail plants begin to grow throughout the wetland.

Scene 2: A map of North America appears, with arrows indicating the three cattail research locations in the Florida Everglades, the Laurentian Great Lakes and the Prairie Pothole Region. Cattails appear on the map in these areas.

Scene 3: A diagram of the cattail plant shows long thin reed-like leaves that grow upwards from a single thick stem which is under the water. The cattail plants grow 2-3 meters, or 6-9 feet tall. It also has a stalk growing from the centre of the stem above the water with a cylindrical top that forms a flowering spike. The root system in the wetland soil has many complex fronds.

Scene 4: The wetland is shown in cross-section with cattails growing rapidly from root systems in the wetland bed, making a wall of vegetation.

Scene 5: The camera zooms in on the root system of a single cattail plant, showing a thick central rhizome with smaller roots growing off it. This is all submerged beneath the water, with oxygen reaching the root system by flowing down the stem.

Scene 6: A countryside scene shows a wetland containing many cattail plants, with some fish and herons around it. There are hills in the distance and ploughed farmland next to it. Carbon dioxide is drawn from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and soil microbial processes, which give off oxygen back to the atmosphere creating a cycle, represented by lines with arrows. Pollutants that runoff from the farmland are filtered by cattails, and clean water enters the wetland system. The camera zooms out showing a city next to the wetland. As time progresses the city appears to build out encroaching on the wetland. More farmland develops, the farmers using herbicides and fertilizers. The wetland gets smaller and fewer birds and fish can be seen.

Scene 7: Small white airborne seeds spread across the wetland from the cattail plants. More and more cattail plants then take root and grow in the wetland, turning the water from blue to dark green.

Scene 8: At the base of the cattail plants there are more dead and rotting plants. The camera zooms in to show yellow circular microbes feeding on the dead plant material. The scene changes to show cattail plants in the green coloured water. Bubbles of methane gas rise from the wetland bed, as well as through the plant stems to reach the atmosphere. Methane also flows through the wetland water.

Scene 9: Phosphorous is absorbed from the wetland bed soil into the cattail plants through the root system as the plants grow, and rises through the stem into the leaves. A tractor mows over the cattail plants, cutting the leaves and gathering them into a harvester. The scene changes to show the leaves being processed along a factory conveyor belt, turning into small brown pellets. The pellets are deposited off the conveyor belt into a fire, which is being used to heat a pot of water.

Scene 10: The scene shows a wetland with many cattail plants growing in its blue waters. A helicopter flies low over the wetland and drops a green chemical over the wetland. Overnight, this kills the cattail plants, but in the wetland bed soil, the rhizome structure of the roots remains healthy. When the Sun rises again, there are new cattail plants growing from these rhizomes.

Scene 11: The wetland scene resets to show a blue wetland with many cattail plants. A helicopter flies over the wetland to deposit a green chemical as the water level rises slightly. There are also small, localised fires along the wetland edge burning some cattail plants. A tractor moves through the wetland harvesting the cattail plants.

Scene 12: Four different types of scientists are shown researching cattail. A group of ecologists in overalls take samples from the wetland and study the plants. Another scientist looks down a microscope at sections of the cattail plant. The third scientist studies a diagram of how materials move between the atmosphere and wetland. The last scientist is using a computer to model how wetlands interact with the environment around them.

Scene 13: The video makes reference to a review paper that is free to access and describes this research. It is available in the journal “Wetlands” and is titled “Typha (Cattail) Invasion in North American Wetlands: Biology, Regional Problems, Impacts, Ecosystem Services and Management”. The video then lists the authors of this paper.

Scene 14: The video also acknowledges the organisations that contribute to this research.