Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly, occasionally ponds, marshes, waterway edges within cities
Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia). There are other Sagittaria that have the edible corm, but the latifolia is the one to focus on where I live - the others have corms that are too small to bother with. Known also as: Broadleaf Arrowhead, Arrowhead, Indian Potato, Duck Potato, Katniss, Tule Potato, Swan Potato, Wapatoo, Wapati. It is a shallow, still water plant most often found in ponds, marshes, swamps and sides of streams where the water is not flowing quickly. The large marble to golf ball sized corm is generally spherical to nearly spherical, has a tan to off-white skin, with white flesh inside.
The corm from the Wapato, when cooked, is a very good tasting potato like starchy food. Don't bother eating raw, as it has a slight bitterness to it, however it is not poisonous raw. To cook, cut off the ends, boil or bake or steam until soft (not long, 10 to 15 minutes simmering & steaming, half hour baking - try with a fork to know). When cooked, the skin will peel right off.
The only time to look for them is in the fall when the plant has sent its energy into the corm to overwinter. You take a rake or stick and disturb the muck under the water, the corms will float up, then gather them. Just remember, the water will be cold (at least in my area it is) when they are ready to harvest, so dress accordingly. In most cases you will have to get into the water to harvest, but if you are lucky, you can rake from land, the corms will pop up and float, and you can use the rake to drag them to the edge of the water to gather.
Make sure you don't have the Calla palustris, or other members of the Arum family - the leaves can look similar in some cases. The best way to know right away is to look at the seed/flower stalk. With the Wapato, there is a stalk with tiers of three seed pods on short stems. The seed pods are basically spherical. With the Calla palustris or others from the Arum family, there is a tight cluster of berries on a stalk.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
If you have the right conditions (shallow, still water with a muddy bottom) on your property, you can grow this plant at home. You might be lucky and get them to produce. I say that, as they are easy to grow, but not always willing to make corms big enough to bother with. Make sure you plant corms from the broadleaf variety, as the narrow leaf ones make small Wapato corms. You can gather and plant seeds as well - just toss the seeds on the water where you want them.
- Plant Size: Aquatic plant 30-120 cm (1 to 4 feet) in length, and spreads 30-100 cm (1 to 3 feet).
- Duration: Perennial
- Leaf Shape: Quite variable: arrowhead-shaped (Spear-shaped), triangular. Leafs do not float on water, but rise above.
- Leaf Size: Up to 30 cm (12 inches) long
- Leaf Margin: Entire (smooth edged)
- Leaf Notes: Some are very triangular, some are thin and long, some are quite broad - all have the basic "Arrowhead" shape.
- Flowers: Tiered whorls of three flowers on stems as tall as 1 meter (3 feet) tall, occasionally even higher, but generally under 1 meter. Each flower has three white petals with a yellow center.
- Fruit: Pods on stem with tan, small, crescent moon shaped seeds.
- Habitat: Ponds, marshes, swamps, and margins of streams. In water that is generally between 15-30 cm (6 to 12 inches) deep, however will colonize on wet muds by water. Still or very slow moving water - not in currents.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
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