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Cattail plant
Cattail plant

Cattail Textile Fiber and its Research Trend

Author: Md. Khalilur Rahman Khan/  khalilbutex@gmail.com
Former Assistant Professor, Bangladesh University of Business and Technology.


Cattail (Typha spp.) is an iconic wetland plant found worldwide, particularly in North America, being researched in order to explore high-value products from an abundant source of biomass. Typha (cattail) fiber derived from this plant is a natural lignocellulosic vegetable fiber, having the potential to be a high-yielding, novel, sustainable textile fiber.


Moreover, the fibers naturally grow in tufts with down-like structure, which could supply the porous structures of the assembly with excellent characteristics. In fact, cattail fibers are comparable with other major textile fibers in terms of chemical composition as well as textile properties. Several researchers investigated the applicability of this textile fiber in various fields such as oil filtration, energy harvesting, textile composite etc. However, it is obviously required to research extensively in order to make this fiber as a competitive textile fiber.


1. What is cattail?

Cattail (Typha spp.) is a plant that thrives in wet soil (e.g., marshes, draining ditches) and on the borders of water basins like lakes, old river beds, and ponds [1]. The generic name Typha was derived from Greek typhe, which is related to Typhon, Typhoon, and Typhus in terms of linguistics. Monsters, storms, diseases, and plants are all connected by these words [2]. The term, ‘cattail’ refers to the appearance of the plant when the seeds are released [3].

Typha is an iconic wetland plant found all over the world. Typha’s distribution and abundance in wetland ecosystems around the world, particularly in North America, have increased in recent decades as a result of anthropogenic disturbances to wetland hydrology and nutrient loads. Cattails are classified into four species in North America: broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia), narrow-leaf cattail (Typha angustifolia), hybrid cattails (T. glauca), and southern or Dominican cattail (Typha domingensis) [4].

The cattail has the potential to be considered as a miracle plant. For example, it aids in the capture and removal of excess nutrients, thereby reducing nutrient loading (i.e. phosphorus) to aquatic systems [5]. Cattail leaves are also used to make baskets, mats, fans, rope, and bedding [3].

Moreover, it has a significant potential for insulation material due to the large amount of “air space” tissue “aerenchyma” in its leaves and stem. This aerenchyma offers material with low heat conduction and thus excellent insulation value [6]. In Germany, for example, Typha latifolia’s insulation and acoustic properties have been labeled “revolutionary” in wall panel technology [7].

The use of cattails to produce biofuel will increase the value of land while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions by replacing petroleum products [8]. In fact, it is used for bio-energy production in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Italy [6]. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and research colleagues have also explored other high-value products such as biochar, bioethanol, anaerobic digestion and biogas, and fiber [9].

2. Structure of cattail plant

Cattails are stiff, tall plants (typically 1.5-3 meters) with 2-4 cm wide leaves [10]. They are “rooted” from their rhizomes, which are actually underground stems. It is perennial, which means that it grows back year after year due to the stored energy in the rhizomes [9]. A key adaptation of the cattail plant is its ability to supply oxygen (O2) to belowground rhizomes and roots via a system of aerenchyma or intercellular air spaces [4].

Typha latifolia has the broadest leaves, Typha angustifolia has the narrowest, and Typha glauca and Typha domingensis have intermediate-width leaves [4]. The leaves resemble massive blades of grass [10]. Typha plants are monoecious, with both male and female flowers in a flower cluster [4]. The flower is divided into two parts: a brown cylinder (the female part) at the bottom and a yellow spike (the male part) at the top [10]. Mature flower stalks resemble a cat’s tail [11].


Cattail plant
Cattail plant [12]
3. Extraction of cattail fiber

Typha fiber (shown in figure-1) is a natural vegetable fiber that is derived from the leaves or fruits of cattail plants. Besides, Typha spp. leaves contain a gummy substance (pectin) that holds the fibers together [7]. Mechanical decortication [13], water retting, and chemical retting are commonly employed to extract the cattail fiber from leaf. Interestingly, the yield (percentage) of cattail plant fiber is much higher than that of other plant fibers. In fact, mature cattail leaves have 30 to 40% soft fiber [3].

4. Properties of cattail fiber

Cattail is a source of lignocellulosic fibers. The main chemical components are cellulose, semi-cellulose, lignin, pectin, and water-soluble matter etc. The linkage between cellulose, like most other vegetable fibers, is primarily dependent on pectin and hemicellulose [14]. The pectin content of the cattail fibers was found to be 1.013 %, which is comparable to cotton fibers [15]. Cattail fibers form tufts with a down-like structure that includes a root, stem, seed, and several fibers [16-17].

In fact, the porous structures of the assembly could be obtained by the down-like structures of the cattail fiber tuft [16]. The cattail fiber’s longitudinal surface is not smooth [15]. The cross section of the Typha fibre is made up of numerous small elliptical (polygonal) cells, each about 4.5-6.0 µm long and 0.70 µm apart due to the presence of smaller ‘canals’ between cells. Each cell has a different sized lumen [18].

A single cattail fiber is sunken in the middle and protrudes on both sides like a “π” forming bamboo-like lumens between neighboring fibers. A cattail fiber has 50 – 180 bamboo-liked joints on average, with a length between two joints of 51 – 112 um. The skeleton of the fiber is coated with a hydrophobic wax with a crystallinity of 45.41 percent [17, 19]. It was also realized that cattail fiber is ‘crenelated’ (rectangular indentation). These characteristics could have significant implications for trapping antibiotics and other chemicals in industrial and biomedical applications [5].

Cattail fibers are brittle and short in length [17]. The aspect ratio is 2585.1, and the fiber bundle strength is 26.9 cN/tex. The percentage of short fibers is 30.2, indicating that fiber length is not uniform [14]. Chakma et al. measured the fiber length of broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia) to be approximately 50 mm [5].

The fibers of narrow-leaved cattail (T. angustifolia) have an average length of 19 mm and a diameter of 41 m [20]. Fruit cattail fiber length is lower than the leaf cattail fiber. Zhang et al. collected fibers from mature plants whose spikes naturally burst and reported that fiber length and fineness ranged primarily between 2.25–10.65 mm and 10–15 m, respectively [15]. The cattail fiber has a handle that is similar to jute [14].

Moisture regain (%) and thermal resistance are comparable to cotton and wool fibers [5]. At 59 % RH and 25°C, the moisture regains (%) for cattail fiber were found to be around 10%. When approached by a flame, cattail does not generate fumes and does not melt; however, it burns rapidly and does not self-extinguish after being removed from the flame. The temperature at which cattail fiber decomposes was measured to be 268.7°C [5]. Besides, cattail fiber has a surface energy of 45.64 mN/m, which is comparable to kapok fiber (49.65 mN/m) and cotton fiber (46.99 mN/m) [19].

The pH of the cattail fiber was 6.7, making it safe for direct human contact. Zhang et al. confirmed that the cattail fiber was acid-resistant, not alkali-resistant [15]. It is also mentioned that reactive dyes were successfully used to dye the Typha fiber [18]. The cellulose content of Typha fiber aided in dye absorption, and dye exhaustion is comparable to or better than cotton [5]. The heat fastness of Typha fiber were comparable to cotton. Cattail fibers’ staining and color change ratings met industry and ASTM minimum performance standards [18].

Cattail fibers represent a large natural source of fiber with impressive physical properties [17]. Typha fiber appears to be suitable for apparel applications due to its higher strength (tenacity=0.31 N/tex) than wool and slightly better than cotton. Cattail fibers treated with alkali have superior fineness and tenacity [21].

Because of its high tensile stress and Young’s modulus, typha fiber can also be used in industrial applications such as composites [18]. Besides, it has been mentioned to be an excellent natural sorbent, due to its low density, good buoyancy and hydrophobic characteristics [22].

5. Spinning of cattail fiber

Liu conducted a research on the spinnability of the cattail fiber. In fact, the cattail fiber blend was spun on a ring spinning machine [14]. Typha fiber length is relatively short, less than 50 mm, implying that a short-staple spinning machine may be the best option for processing the fibers [23]. In addition, the stiffness of Typha fiber is greater than that of cotton and polyester, making it difficult to process in Cotton spinning systems [5].

6. Research trend and Potentiality of cattail fiber

Even though the most common sorbents are synthetic polymers such as polypropylene fiber and polyester fiber currently [24], they are not renewable or biodegradable, and they are expensive, which severely limits their future application [22]. Cattail fibers have been proposed as a promising natural source for the development of oil absorbents [17]. One of the most important intrinsic factors contributing to the high capacity of oil absorption is the availability of open pores made available by the fibers [19].

Several researchers investigated cattail fiber assembly for its ability to absorb oil [16-17,19, 22,24-26]. According to Cui et al., the oil-sorption rates of cattail fiber assemblies to engine oil and vegetable oil were 13.4 g/g and 14.6 g/g, respectively, and the oil retention capability to both engine oil and vegetable oil after 24 hours was greater than 95 percent [16]. Later on, Quan et al. reported that cattail fiber has a high sorption capacity: 1g cattail fiber can absorb 24.7g pure motor oil and 27.8g pure vegetable oil [27].

In addition, Khan et al. investigated the ability of cattail fibers to remove PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and they found that cattail fiber had a high capacity for PAH sorption. 1 g of cattail fiber can remove 0.1 to 11 mg of PAHs, whereas PAH concentrations in runoff are in the nanogram or microgram range [26].

According to Xu et al., higher packing density of cattail fiber assembly results in lower oil sorption capacity due to less available space among fibers. In their investigation, they discovered that 0.04 g/ cm3 packing density was the best [22]. It is stated that the performance of cattail fiber assemblies on oil retention capacity was better than the performance on oil sorption capacity [24].

Catalytically active carbons (CAC) material was synthesized using natural cattail fibers as raw materials to regulate and amplify the catalytic sites, allowing excellent potential applications in renewable energy conversion and storage systems [28]. Song et al. developed cattail fiber-derived hierarchical porous carbon materials for use in energy storage and conversion [29].

Several researchers [10, 13, 21, 30] have reported the use of cattail fiber in the preparation of textile-based composite materials. Moreover, Typha fiber has been introduced successfully as a leaf fiber for the creation of new acoustic non-woven composites for lightweight structures [31].

On the other hand, Koschevic et al. used bleached Cattail fiber (T. domingensis) for the physicochemical impregnation of silver nanoparticles and benzalkonium chloride in the development of an antimicrobial material.

They came to the conclusion that Cattail fibers could be used as a functional filler or coating in the development of antimicrobial composites [32]. Han et al. utilized cattail fiber to prepare N-doped biomass-derived carbon (NPCF) as metal-free electrocatalysts for effective hydrogen evolution reaction (HER), providing a novel idea for the promising preparation of metal-free carbon materials derived from abundant biomass for more efficient and cleaner bulk chemical production [33].

Although some researchers characterized the quality parameters of Typha Latifolia fiber [5, 18], few studies are available on cattail fiber spinning system. As a result, there are huge scopes for researchers to conduct their study on producing cattle yarn.

7. Conclusion

Productivity, adaptability, and chemical composition of cattail plant make it a rapidly growing plant. Expectedly, easy extraction method, availability, unique structure, competitive physical, chemical, thermal characteristics will make cattail fiber as one of the significant textile fibers in the near future. Besides, structured cattail fiber assembly is drawing researcher’s attention greatly for being used in various purposes, including oil filtration, derivation of carbon materials and so on.

Still, there are lots of areas in which the researchers can conduct their study, particularly in the spinning system of cattail fiber.


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