Cattail Cutting in NY State. Is it Legal or Not?


Cattails are tall, grass-like plants that grow in marshes and wetlands throughout North America. They are easy to identify by their long, slender leaves and distinctive, cylindrical flower spikes. The brown “cat tail” flowers stay on the plants through the winter, providing year-round visual interest (Source 1).

Cattails have many traditional uses, including being woven into mats, processed into flour, and used as insulation or stuffing material (Source 2). Some people want to cut cattails to use in crafts, floral arrangements, or for their medicinal properties. However, it’s important to know the laws around cutting plants, as some species are protected.

New York State has laws prohibiting the removal of certain wild plants from public property without a permit. Cutting cattails specifically may or may not be legal depending on the circumstances, which this article will explore in detail.

Cattail Identification

Cattails go by the scientific name Typha latifolia and are a species of wetland plant. They have long, flat, blade-like green leaves that can reach heights of 3 to 10 feet tall. The leaves emerge from a base in shallow water and surround a tall, stiff stem that produces a cylindrical brown flower spike (Wild Pickings, 2022).

Cattails are found throughout wetlands in North America from Alaska and Canada south to California, Mexico, and Florida. They grow in freshwater marshes, along pond edges, in ditches, and in other shallow water areas (Wild Pickings, 2022).

All parts of the cattail are edible and have traditionally been used by native peoples. The immature flower heads can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. Mature flower spikes produce a cotton-like fluff used as stuffing material. Cattail roots and shoots are starchy and a good survival food (Wild Pickings, 2022).

Cattails also have a variety of other traditional uses including weaving material, thatching roofs, caulking canoes, and more (Wild Pickings, 2022).

Cattail Uses

Cattails have a variety of uses for humans, including as a food source, building material, natural remedy, and landscaping plant.

As a food source, cattail roots can be peeled and eaten raw or boiled like potatoes. The young shoots can also be eaten raw or cooked. Pollen from the flowers can be used as a flour substitute in baking. Even the inner core can be eaten raw or boiled.

Cattails can provide building material in the form of waterproof thatch for roofing. The leaves can be woven into mats, baskets and chair seats. The fluffy seed heads were used as stuffing in mattresses and life jackets.

Medicinally, cattail roots and leaves have antiseptic and astringent properties. Poultices made from the roots can help heal wounds. Extracts made from the plant are used by herbalists to treat digestive issues.

In landscaping, cattails are planted in ponds and wetlands to help filter contaminants from water. Their fast growth helps prevent erosion. The tall leaves provide shade and shelter for fish and wildlife.


Why People Cut Cattails

There are several reasons why people cut cattails:

For personal use – Cattails have many uses and people harvest them for personal reasons like using the leaves for weaving baskets or eating the tender shoots. The fluffy flower heads can be used as insulation or stuffing for cushions and the roots and stalks can be eaten like vegetables.

Selling commercially – Some people harvest cattails to sell commercially. The stalks can be used to make sustainable building materials and the fluff makes good natural insulation. Cattail fluff and other parts may be sold to florists for decorative purposes as well. There is a market for people who want to harvest and sell cattails.

Clearing land – Cattails spread aggressively and some property owners cut them back to reclaim land, especially around the edges of ponds and lakes. Cutting cattails may be done to clear the area for other recreational uses or to maintain open water. Controlling cattail growth helps prevent a pond from becoming overgrown. Landowners may periodically cut back cattails as part of property management.

New York State Laws on Cutting Plants

New York State has several laws that restrict or regulate the cutting and removal of plants from public and private lands. These laws aim to prevent over-harvesting and habitat destruction.

On public lands like state parks, it is generally illegal to cut, remove, or damage any trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, or other plants without a permit. Depending on the area, special permits may be required for scientific collection, commercial purposes, or craft/personal use. Permits stipulate approved areas, species, quantities, and seasons for plant cutting or harvesting. Penalties for removing plants from public lands without authorization can include fines up to $250 and/or 15 days imprisonment.

On private lands, property owners have the right to cut vegetation on their own property. However, there are some restrictions in New York State on harvesting specific native plant species that are listed as endangered or threatened. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulates the collection and sale of these protected native plants. Violations can lead to fines up to $250 per plant illegally harvested.

In addition, individuals should avoid trespassing on private property and damaging or removing plants without the landowner’s permission, as this constitutes theft and destruction of property under New York law.

Specifically Cattails

Cattails are often targeted for cutting or removal, so New York State has specific regulations regarding harvesting or removing cattails. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), it is illegal to cut, remove, or deface cattails from any freshwater wetlands or adjacent areas without a permit from the DEC.

There are some exceptions to this regulation. Landowners can remove cattails from their own property as long as it is not deemed a protected wetland area. Cattails can also be removed without a permit if they are causing an obstruction to navigation or drainage issues. However, the DEC still requests that removal be limited in these cases.

It is also illegal in New York to cut cattails from state-owned wetlands or protected wetland areas. According to the DEC, all freshwater wetlands greater than 12.4 acres are protected under Article 24 of the Environmental Conservation Law.

In summary, it is generally illegal to cut or remove cattails in New York without the proper permits from the DEC. There are limited exceptions for removal on private, non-protected wetlands by landowners, or for removal due to obstructions or drainage issues. But in most cases, a permit is required for cattail harvesting or removal in the state of New York.

Cutting Cattails on Public vs. Private Land

There are different regulations regarding cutting cattails depending on whether the land is public or private.

On public land, cutting, removing, or damaging plants is generally prohibited without a permit. Public lands are owned by the government and include parks, wildlife refuges, wetlands, conservation areas, etc. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cattails are protected in National Wildlife Refuges and permission is required before any removal (source).

On private land, the regulations vary by state and locality. Some states have regulations prohibiting the cutting or removal of certain plants, even on private property. It is advisable to check with your state’s department of natural resources or local government to understand regulations that may apply. Some key things to determine are property boundaries, any protected wetlands, and any relevant permitting requirements (source).

In general, permission should be obtained from the landowner before cutting plants on private property. Cattail growth can provide important habitat and ecological benefits, so careful consideration should be given to retaining some plants if cutting (source).

Ethical Considerations

When deciding whether to cut cattails, there are a few ethical considerations to keep in mind regarding environmental impact, wildlife habitats, and sustainability:

Cutting cattails can negatively impact the environment if not done properly or sustainably. Cattails play an important ecological role in wetland habitats by filtering contaminants from water, preventing erosion, and providing food and shelter for wildlife [1]. Indiscriminate cutting can disrupt these ecosystem services and damage the wetland environment.

Cattail marshes also provide essential habitat for wildlife including birds, frogs, turtles, muskrats, and insects. Cutting or removing cattails extensively can destroy habitat and interfere with breeding and rearing of young for wetland species [2]. This should be avoided, especially during nesting seasons.

To maintain the sustainability of cattail wetlands, cutting should be limited and targeted. Cutting a portion of a cattail marsh can allow for regeneration, but cutting too much can allow invasive species to take over. It’s best to use cutting as part of an integrated management plan for controlling cattails.

When harvesting cattails, ethical foragers should only take what they need and leave some behind to allow the marsh to regrow. Leaving some vegetation can help prevent erosion as well. Following sustainable harvesting practices preserves the habitat and ensures cattails remain available for both wildlife and human use.

Alternatives to Cutting

Instead of cutting cattails from the wild, there are alternative options that are more sustainable and ethical:

Buying commercially grown cattails: Many nurseries and garden centers sell cattails that are specially grown for decorative purposes. These cultivated cattails have been propagated and grown sustainably, avoiding damage to sensitive wetland ecosystems. Purchasing farm-grown cattails provides an abundant source for crafts and decoration (Source).

Using alternative plants: For decorative purposes, acceptable substitutes instead of wild cattails include reeds, bulrushes, bamboo, dried flowers, and other non-invasive plants. Be sure to research any plants before incorporating into your environment.

Photographing cattails: Wild cattails make excellent photographic subjects. Snapping high quality photos preserves the beauty of cattails forever, without having to damage wetland habitats by cutting them. Taking photos requires care to avoid damaging sensitive ecosystems when traveling off-trail (Source).


In summary, while cattails have many uses and people may want to harvest them, there are some key regulations to keep in mind. Cattails are protected native plants in many states, including New York, and it is illegal to cut or remove them from public lands without a permit. On private property, landowners may be able to cut cattails if they follow certain rules, get any necessary permits, and avoid protected wetland areas.

To cut cattails ethically and legally, first get permission if harvesting on private or public lands. Research local and state regulations, acquire necessary permits, and follow harvesting best practices that prevent over-harvesting. Only take what is absolutely needed, monitor regrowth, and avoid damaging the wetland ecosystem.

Additional resources for responsible cattail harvesting include:

– State department of natural resources permit applications and information

– Outreach to local conservation groups for area-specific guidance

– Sustainable harvesting best practices from reputable environmental organizations

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