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All photos by Jim Mason

Common Name:

Scientific Name:
Sagittaria latifolia

Duck Potato,

A rrowhead is a common sight in wetland margins in the Great Plains and elsewhere.  Its name comes from the typical shape of the leaf, which can be seen in the picture above.   The shape of the leaf is variable, however, and may be deeply lobed or a simple lance shape or somewhere in between.  The plant usually stands about 2 feet tall and the leaf blade may be up to a foot long.

The flowers of Arrowhead have an interesting arrangement.  They occur in a spike with the male flowers at the top of the flower stalk and the female flowers below.

This picture shows a closeup of the male flowers with their many stamens ready to dust the next visiting insect with pollen.  The female flowers also have three white petals but have a structure resembling a small green cocklebur in the middle.

Arrowhead flowers

Eight species of Sagittaria are known from the Great Plains.  They differ in minor respects, but they all go by the name arrowhead.  The most common and widespread is S. latifolia.  It is difficult to separate one species from another.  You can browse info on the various North American species by entering the genus name in the search field here.

Six of our species of Arrowhead store food in enlarged areas on the outer ends of their roots called corms.  These are small tubers one to two inches in diameter with a high starch content.  They are the "duck potatoes" referred to in the nickname.   The corms were harvested by Native Americans (usually the women) in the fall.  They would feel around with their toes to locate and dislodge the tubers, which would float to the surface where they could be gathered.  Bitter when raw, they become quite tasty after cooking.  For long periods of time when they were following the lower Columbia River in present-day Oregon, the Lewis and Clark expedition lived mainly on elk meat (which they killed themselves) and wapato purchased from the local tribes.

As you might guess by the nickname, some waterfowl like to harvest the corms also, but not all ducks.  A two inch tuber is a lot to swallow whole!  Swans and larger ducks like Canvasbacks are known to seek them out.  Other ducks may take them if they are not too big.   Muskrats also relish "duck potatoes" and will store them in piles called middens for later consumption.

If you want to see Arrowhead in bloom, August is a great time to do so.  Put on your wading shoes and head for the nearest wetland, lake or stream.  Look for this plant along the water's edge and in shallow areas where the bottom is muddy.  If you are hungry for "duck potatoes", they won't be at their best until fall, so wait until then to harvest any.  But if you do, be sure to leave some for the ducks!

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