Cattails provide an essential food source for muskrats, nutria and geese. Ducks sometimes eat them as well, but they are of minimal value as a food source.
Cattail seeds are small and so are not essential to the diets of most bird species. However, some species consume them, including the green-winged teal and semipalmated sandpiper. Species of geese that eat the seeds of the cattail include the Canada goose, snow goose and tule goose.
People are also known to eat the roots of cattails, either for survival or as wild forage food. These rhizomes measure up to 27 inches in length. Historically, some Native American tribes ate cattails. Dried rhizomes can be ground into floor or cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The seedpods, if not yet mature, can also be roasted and eaten. Tender young cattail stems are also edible, either raw or cooked. The shoots are white and tender and have a mild, sweet flavor. The roots are starchy, like potatoes, but tougher. When extracted into flour, they have a slightly sweet taste.
Cattails grow along the edges of bodies of water and wetlands and are easily identified by their large brown, cylinder-shaped seedpods. Each of these seed spikes contains hundreds of thousands of tiny seeds.