Typha latifolia (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
Introduction
List of species


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Typha latifolia L.


Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 971 (1753).
Family: Typhaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 30

Vernacular names

  • Bulrush, cattail, broad-leaved cattail, common cattail, reedmace, great reedmace (En).
  • Massette à larges feuilles, quenouille à larges feuilles, roseau des étangs (Fr).
  • Espadanha, murrão dos fogueteiros (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Typha latifolia is widely distributed in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, and at higher altitudes in Japan, North Africa and tropical Africa. Confusion of this species with other Typha species is common and few herbarium specimens have been collected. As a result it is hard to establish the exact distribution of Typha latifolia in tropical Africa.

Uses

The leaves are used for making mats and baskets. In southern Africa the mature, silky female florets are used for stuffing cushions and pillows. The rhizomes are eaten as a famine food. American Indians used the leaves for thatching, and for making baskets, partitions and burial shrouds; a hot drink prepared from the powdered roots and leaf bases was taken to relieve stomachache.

In Tanzania and in many countries outside tropical Africa Typha latifolia is planted in basins for wastewater treatment. Use of, and research into improving such systems is well-documented, especially for eastern Europe. Plant material harvested from these basins is used as fuel, compost, cattle feed and thatch, and for making mats, hats, chair seats, paper and insulation material. In Estonia the plant material is cut into chips which are mixed with clay and made into building blocks, while fibrous material from the inflorescence axis is used to reinforce and avoid cracks in clay plaster.

Typha spp. are also planted in Europe as ornamentals in ponds, and used as cut flowers.

Properties

In the United States the crude fibre content of the leaves was found to be 66–77%, and the protein content 9%. Dry plant material has a high calorific value, which makes it valuable for fuel. Flavonoids and other phenolic compounds have been isolated from the plant, as well as several triterpenoids with a steroidal skeleton, such as typhasterol. The seed contains about 16% oil with a high linoleic acid content.

Botany

Perennial, monoecious, glabrous herb with long, creeping rhizomes; stem erect, up to 3.5 m tall, unbranched, solid. Leaves in two rows, mostly basal and sub-basal; sheath with abruptly rounded to auriculate shoulders, sometimes purple spotted within; blade linear, flat, up to 200 cm × 1 cm, base narrow, apex obtuse. Inflorescence a cylindrical spike, with the male part superposed on the female part, the two parts contiguous, flowers numerous and closely packed; bract at base of each part leaf-like, caducous; male part 5–12 cm × 1.5–2.5 cm, flowering earlier than female part; female part 13–25 cm × 2.5–3.5(–4) cm, yellow-green, becoming sepia-brown or almost black, rachis densely covered by numerous fertile and sterile flowers without bracteole, sometimes constricted or interrupted, each interruption or constriction with a bract, interruption up to 3.5 cm long. Flowers unisexual; male flowers reduced to stamens, with linear bracts surrounding the stamens, filaments white, anthers basifixed; female flowers with a fusiform ovary borne on a thin stalk surrounded by a whorl of hairs at the base, style longer than the surrounding hairs, stigma broadly lanceolate; sterile female flowers as long as the hairs, pale speckled with red. Fruit a very small, elliptical follicle falling off before dehiscence together with its stalk, 1-seeded. Seed striate.

Typha comprises (8–)15(–20) species, most of which are widely distributed throughout the temperate, subtropical and tropical zones of both hemispheres. The taxonomy is still not clear and identification of the taxonomical units often difficult. In tropical Africa 4 Typha species occur. Typha capensis (Rohrb.) N.E.Br. (synonym: Typha latifolia subsp. capensis Rohrb.) is distributed from Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda through southern Africa to South Africa. The leaves are made into brooms and are used for weaving and thatching. Rhizome decoctions are taken to cure venereal diseases or during pregnancy to ensure easy delivery and to promote expulsion of the placenta. They are also taken against painful menstruation, diarrhoea, dysentery, as an aphrodisiac and to promote blood circulation. The pounded rhizome is eaten as a source of starch. The pollen is rich in protein and are eaten in pancakes.

Ecology

Typha latifolia grows in marshy locations and along the margins of streams with fresh water. It is known to tolerate a water depth of up to 1 m. In Kenya and Uganda it is found above 1300 m altitude, in Ethiopia above 1600 m altitude. At the lower part of its altitudinal range it usually grows mixed with Typha domingensis (Pers.) Steud. Typha latifolia tolerates a pH of 4–10 and a salinity up to 0.5 ppt (parts per thousand). It further tolerates high levels of heavy metals, especially lead, zinc and copper.

Management

Typha latifolia is propagated by rhizome division or seed. The seeds do not germinate in the dark. The plant is a host of the African sugarcane borer (Eldana saccharina), a pest of maize and sugarcane. Where it is considered a weed, it may be controlled effectively by cutting or crushing below the water level or by spraying with glyphosate. The annual biomass production of Typha latifolia is 5–90 t dry matter per ha depending on nutrient supply, site and climate.

Genetic resources

In view of its wide distribution Typha latifolia seems not threatened with genetic erosion.

Prospects

The importance of Typha latifolia fibres will probably remain limited to local use. For the highland tropics and for countries with temperate and cold climates it has huge potential as a component of aquatic plant systems for the treatment of wastewater.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
  • Morton, J.F., 1975. Cattails (Typha spp.): weed problem or potential crop. Economic Botany 29(1): 7–29.
  • Napper, D.M., 1971. Typhaceae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 5 pp.
  • Vymazal, J., 2011. Plants used in constructed wetlands with horizontal subsurface flow: a review. Hydrobiologia 672.
  • Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.

Other references

  • Brisson, J. & Chazarenc, F., 2009. Maximizing pollutant removal in constructed wetlands: Should we pay more attention to macrophyte species selection? Science of The Total Environment 407(13): 3923–3930.
  • Burgoon, P.S., Reddy, K.R. & DeBusk, T.A., 1989. Domestic wastewater treatment using emergent plants cultured in gravel and plastic substrate. In: Hammer, D.A. (Editor). Constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment. Lewis Publishers, Chelsea, Michigan, United States. pp. 536–541.
  • CHCD, 1996. Dictionary of natural products on CD-ROM, release 4.2. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom.
  • Fraser, L.F., Carty, S.M. & Steer, D., 2004. A test of four plant species to reduce total nitrogen and total phosphorus from soil leachate in subsurface wetland microcosms. Bioresource Technology 94: 185–192.
  • Kamau, C.G., 2009. Constructed wetlands: potential for their use in treatment of grey water in Kenya. M.Sc. Thesis, Christian Albrechts Universität, Kiel, Germany. 77 pp.
  • Maddison, M., Mauring, T., Remm, K., Lesta, M. & Mander, U., 2009. Dynamics of Typha latifolia L. populations in treatment wetlands in Estonia. Ecological Engineering 35: 258–264.
  • Mazodze, R. & Conlong, D.E., 2003. Eldana saccharina (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) in sugarcane (Saccharum hybrids), sedge (Cyperus digitatus) and bulrush (Typha latifolia) in south-eastern Zimbabwe. Proceedings of the South African Sugar Technology Association 77: 266–274.
  • Mbuligwe, S.E., 2004. Comparative effectiveness of engineered wetland systems in the treatment of anaerobically pre-treated domestic wastewater. Ecological Engineering 23: 269–284.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.

Author(s)

  • C.H. Bosch, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Bosch, C.H., 2011. Typha latifolia L. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 12 November 2020.