Cattails – Traditions, Symbols, Spiritualism

Cattails (or bulrushes as they’re called in some parts of the world) are striking features growing at the edge of the water. It’s only natural that when you see something as unusual as a cattail that you might wonder about its spiritual, metaphysical and symbolic meaning. So, we’ve put together this piece that not only covers the metaphysical meaning, but also looks at the various traditions and beliefs we associate with the common cattail / bulrush.

First Thing’s First: What Are Cattails / Bulrushes?

Cattails (bulrushes) are a perennial plant that grow along the water’s edge. In appearance, they look like a reed or type of grass. In fact, they belong to the same order as the grasses – “Poales”. Cattails can grow quite large indeed. At their tallest, they can reach 10 feet tall (over 3 meters)! While its distinctive “cattail” is often called a flower, it isn’t one per se. It’s more accurately termed a “flower spike” since the reproductive parts of the flower grow along a single “spike”.

It’s no wonder that such a large plant with such an eye-catching “flower” catches the imagination. No wonder you’re curious about the spiritual meaning of cattails. In fact, they’re a plant with a distinctive appearance that they’ve earned a plethora of common names. We already know the two most widely used names—cattail and bulrush—but check out this list of other common names:

  • Cattail
  • Bulrush
  • Cat-o’-nine-tails
  • Great reedmace
  • Cooper’s reed
  • Cumbungi

Cattails as an “Olive Branch”

The most common association with cattails is “peace”. In fact, think of them as an alternative to the olive branch. This is because the gift of a bulrush flower spike is intended as a symbol of an end to any conflict. Therefore, if you have been quarreling with a partner, family member, or loved one, you could do worse than add some cattails to a bouquet of flowers as a peace offering.

olive branch symbol of peacemaking

However, this tradition is a bit archaic and the recipient might not immediately understand the sign. So, as long as you do it graciously, you could also weave a little explanation into the peace offering—”Here’s a peace offering! Even if you don’t know it yet!” Without a doubt the recipient will ask what the heck you’re talking about. Have fun.

Cattails and the Number One

Cattails are associated with the number one. This is because, as you can see, their flower spikes sorta look like a number one.

In numerology, the number one is all about the beginning. Who could have guessed? But, think about what beginnings are. They’re moments of enthusiasm, energy, endeavor, hope, joy, passion and enterprise. So, a bulrush / cattail would be a good symbol to see for yourself if you are starting on a new journey—maybe you’re entering into a new business? The number one, and thereby, the cattail, is symbolic of everything you need when starting your new business—it symbolizes strength and the understanding that its own strength can be used to transform from one into many (i.e. like making lots of money).

By Яна Анатольевна Седова, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Or, how about this? It’s a good sign for a new relationship. Also, thinking back to the cattail as a symbol of peacemaking, it could be a good sign for the “rebeginning” of a repaired bond.

Being associated with the number one means that the cattail is a symbol of Life Path One. So, this stunning marginal reed stands for people who are trailblazers with natural leadership skills. Your challenge in life is to become confident and then use that confidence to put your skills to use.

Cattails / Bulrushes and Halloween in Ireland

In parts of Ireland, people have been known to set cattails on fire as part of a Halloween tradition.

The bulrushes were typically soaked in a flammable fuel of some sort—paraffin for example—to help them burn more easily. This practice, of course, is very dangerous and not recommended at all. This tradition is rarely practiced nowadays because it is so obviously dangerous!

Cattails / Bulrushes and Death

A traditional belief in Britain associates cattails with death. It is said that if a bulrush (as they are more commonly known in the UK) is cut and brought into the house, then it is a harbinger of death. As such, if you’re at all superstitious, then maybe you should think twice about the earlier advice to use them as a peace offering. Especially to a Brit! They might think you’re trying to give them some very bad luck indeed!

The Ark of Bulrushes

Bulrushes are important to adherents to Judeo-Christian religions. This is because it is believed that Moses (Moshe Rabbenu (Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ‎ lit. “Moshe our Teacher”)) was found among the bulrushes. In fact, depending on translations and equivalencies some believe the basket in which Moses floated on the water was actually made of bulrush leaves.

finding moses in the bulrushes

However, it is more likely that Moses was found in papyrus stems growing along the banks of the Nile. After all, this all happened in Egypt you see. So, it is also more likely that Moses’s basket was also made from papyrus.

Further Reading

Header Image Credit
By Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0,