Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Broad-Leaved Arrowhead - A Beautiful Wetland Plant

A leaf of broad-leaved arrowhead or duck potato
Photo by Linda Crampton
The broad-leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is a wetland plant that is most notable for its very large, arrow-shaped leaves and its edible tubers. One of its alternate names - and my favorite - is duck potato. Many waterfowl eat duck potato tubers, and so do beavers, muskrats and some humans. The plant’s other names are Indian potato, wapato and broadleaf arrowhead.

Duck potato is native to North America. There is a small stream near my home with a large cluster of plants growing beside it. Duck potato also grows in the shallow parts of lakes, in swamps and even in ditches. It's generally found in large groups with other duck potato plants instead of growing on its own.

The leaves of bread-leaved arrowhead may be more than a foot long and up to eight inches wide. They have a very distinct arrowhead shape as well as prominent veins. The small flowers have three white petals. The center of the flower is yellow (male) or green (female). The flowers are arranged in whorls on a tall flower stalk that extends as far as a foot above the leaves. The male flowers are generally located on the upper part of the flower stalk and the female flowers on the lower part. The plant as a whole may reach a height of four feet.

Flowers of Broad-Leaved Arrowhead
Photo by Robert H. Mohlenbrock and the USDA,
public domain license
The tubers of duck potato are produced on underground rhizomes or runners.  The round structures can be felt by dipping hands into the water or mud where the plant is growing and running the fingers along the rhizomes. The tubers will float to the surface once they are freed from the rhizomes and the mud. In the past, First Nations ladies reportedly removed the tubers with their toes as they waded through the water. The starchy tubers can be eaten raw, but they taste bitter in this form. Like grocery store potatoes, they can be boiled, fried, roasted and baked. They have a pleasant taste when cooked.

If you want to try eating collecting and eating duck potatoes, it's important to take some precautions. When harvesting wild plants, a forager must be very careful to identify plants correctly, collect them in an unpolluted area and avoid destroying or damaging all the plants in the area.

Broad-leaved arrowhead is a perennial. Flowers are produced in summer and tubers are ready to collect in the fall. In the late fall the leaves turn yellow and die (at least in my part of North America), but fresh leaves appear in the spring.

Duck potato is an attractive and interesting plant. Some people plant it beside a garden pond or stream so that they can enjoy its presence every day. The plant grows vigorously when it's in a good habitat, however, and may need to be controlled. In fact, it's sometimes considered to be an invasive species. 

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