Cattails are perennial marsh plants that never truly die. They start life as seeds attached to pieces of fluff that become rhizomes, and the rhizomes sprout shoots and grow into full plants, before flowering and self-pollinating. Once the flowers die, the seeds develop and blow away to become new plants.
The base of the cattail, or the rhizome, is a tuber-like root that lives deep underground. That is the portion of the plant that survives the winter. In spring, the rhizome puts out shoots that can be mistaken for daffodil or iris leaves until they later grow 3 to 9 feet tall. On cattails, the male and female parts exist on the same stalks, and when the male portion flowers, a great deal of the pollen produced falls to the female parts below. As the flowers die, the seeds are produced, with the attached fluff helping to carry the seeds in the wind. The seeds are also food for a number of migratory marsh birds and can be moved by them.