The cattail is a tall, wetland perennial plant with a stem that grows to a height of between 1 and 2.5 metres. Its leaves are thick and glaucous green when fresh, and between 5 and 20 millimetres wide. A single shoot has between 12 and 16 leaves. Light-brown flowers form at the top of the stem and quickly come apart, leaving a bare stem. Below this grows a thick, dark-brown flower, reminiscent of a cigar. These last for many months before they disintegrate.
The cattail grows in dense stands in areas of shallow water or seasonal flooding, or in narrow bands along the edge of deeper water. A healthy plant community along the edge of a lake can help protect the lake shore. The plants filter run-off as it flows into the lake, helping to reduce the amount of nutrients and mud that enters the lake from the surrounding land. In addition, the cattail provides an important habitat for many species of wildlife and birds. It is a widespread plant, found throughout most of Europe.