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Nature Guide






















broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)





















broadleaf arrowhead


Indian potato




Sagittaria chinensis Pursh

Sagittaria engelmanniana J.G. Sm. subsp. longirostra (Micheli) Bogin

Sagittaria esculenta Howell

Sagittaria latifolia Willd. var. obtusa (Muhl. ex Willd.) Wiegand

Sagittaria latifolia Willd. var. pubescens (Muhl. ex Nutt.) J.G. Sm.

Sagittaria longirostra (Micheli) J.G. Sm.

Sagittaria obtusa Muhl. ex Willd., non Thunb.

Sagittaria ornithorhyncha Small

Sagittaria planipes Fernald

Sagittaria pubescens Muhl. ex Nutt.

Sagittaria variabilis Engelm. var. obtusa (Muhl. ex Willd.) Engelm.

Sagittaria viscosa C. Mohr


CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.


TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for broadleaf arrowhead is Sagittaria latifolia Willd.


The genus name Sagittaria is from the Latin 'sagitta' for 'arrow' referring to the shape of the leaf of this genus and the species name latifolia is also from the Latin 'latus' for 'broad' referring to broad leaves. Other arrowheads have narrower leaves.


NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.




Habit: Broadleaf arrowhead is an erect native perennial marsh plant with a naked stem growing 6 to 48 inches high. Leaf stalks are up to 2 feet long. Flowering stems and stalks are hairless.

Leaves: A rosette of basal leaves surrounds the flowering stems. Leaves are toothless, hairless and arrowhead shaped with the basal lobes at least half as long as, and usually up to a little longer than, the remainder of the blade. Leaves may be as much as 10 inches wide and 16 inches long but are usually about half that (submerged leaves are often much narrower and are linear to ovate). Leaf width is highly variable. In shallow water or drier soil conditions leaves are broad, and narrow when the plant is submersed in deeper water. In general, the basal lobes will be equal to or a little longer than the length of the remainder of the blade. Leaves have a distinct vein starting from the leaf base and radiating to each lobe tip.


Flowers: Flowers are whorled in groups of 3 in a spike-like raceme up to 1 foot long. There are usually both male and female flowers on the same stem, but sometimes a stem has a single gender. Both genders are about 1 inch across with 3 broad white petals and 3 small pale green sepals behind the flower. Female flowers have a bulbous green center, covered in tiny carpels. Male flowers have a group of golden yellow stamens in the center. At the base of the whorl are 2 or 3 boat-shaped bracts that are 1/8 to 1/3 inch long and typically less than half as long as the flower stalks. The bracts shrivel up quickly, the brown, papery remains persisting through fruiting. A plant has 1 or more flowering stem, each with 3 to 9 whorls of flowers. The flowering stem may be taller or shorter than the basal leaves.


Fruits/Seeds: Flowers mature to flattened nutlets that are packed into a dense head. The nutlet fruit is a head of beaked seeds, that eventually turns dark brown. The beak projects horizontally from the top of the seed. The beak extends from and is parallel to the widest portion of the seed.


Seeds of Sagittaria species take two years to germinate, because they have a double dormancy requiring cold then warm then cold temperatures.  Temperature has a multiple role in the regulation of timing of germination.  Dormant seeds become non-dormant only at specific temperatures, non-dormant seeds have specific temperature requirements for germination, and non-dormant seeds of some species are induced into dormancy by certain temperatures.


Roots: The common names of duck potato and wapato are in reference to the enlarged rounded starchy golfball-sized tubers that form at the ends of underground plant runners (rhizomes).


REGENERATION PROCESS: Broadleaf arrowhead propogates itself by reseeding, although it also can grow from rhizomes.


HABITAT TYPES: Broadleaf arrowhead is an emergent plant found in the shallow water or saturated soils of marshes, swamps and other wetlands. It grows from a submerged crown of rhizomatous tubers which will form colonies. Consistent cutting or grazing will result in very small plants.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Broadleaf arrowhead prefers

full sun and rich wetland soil for optimal growth. Partial sun will diminish flower production.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Plants bloom from July to September.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Broadleaf arrowhead is found throughout the United States (except Nevada) and in all Canadian provinces(except Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut).




IMPORTANCE AND USES: Tubers are planted as an wildlife food.  Ducks eat the small, flat seeds of arrowheads, but the tubers are the most valuable to wildlife.  Muskrat and porcupine are known to eat the tubers.  Swans, geese, wood ducks, blue-winged teal, lesser and greater scaup, ruddy duck, ring necked duck, pintail, mallard, mottled duck, gadwall, canvasback, black duck and king rail are known to eat arrowhead seeds and tubers.  For wildlife use, the tubers of Sagittaria latifolia are often too large and too deeply buried to be useful to ducks.


Broadleaf arrowhead is an aquatic plant with tuberous roots that can be eaten like potatoes.  Lewis and Clark found it at the mouth of the Willamette and considered it equal to the potato, and valuable for trade. Indian women collected it in shallow water from a canoe, or waded into ponds or marshes in the late summer and loosened the roots with their toes. The roots would rise to the top of the water where they were gathered and tossed into floating baskets.  Today, the tubers are harvested with a hoe, pitchfork, or rake.  Tubers are baked in fire embers, boiled, or roasted in the ashes.  Tubers are skinned and eaten whole or mashed.

After roasting, some tubers were dried and stored for winter use. The Chippewa gathered the "Indian potatoes" in the fall, strung them, and hung them overhead in the wigwam to dry.  Later they were boiled for use.


The tubers of Sagittaria species were eaten by many different indigenous groups in Canada, as well as many groups of Washington and Oregon  The tubers were also widely traded from harvesting centers to neigh-boring areas.  The tubers were also a major item of commerce on the Lower Columbia in Chinook Territory.  Katzie families owned large patches of the plant and clearing the patches claimed ownership.  Family groups would camp beside their claimed harvesting sites for a month or more.


A species of Sagittaria grows in China, and is sold in the markets of China and Japan as food, the corms being full of starch. Sagittaria latifolia is extensively cultivated in the San Francisco Bay area in California to supply the Chinese markets, and the tubers are commonly to be found on sale.  The Chinese, on coming to California, used it for food and may have cultivated it somewhat.  In so doing, they are believed to have extended its range into the southern part of the state.


Medicinally, the Maidu of California used an infusion of arrowhead roots to clean and treat wounds.  The Navajo use these plants for headaches. The Ojibwa and the Chippewa used Sagittaria species as a remedy for indigestion.  The Cherokee used an infusion of leaves to bathe feverish babies, with one sip given orally.  The Iroquois used it for rheumatism, a dermatological aid, and a laxative.  The Iroquois used it as a ceremonial blessing when they began planting corn.



Back to Inventory of Herb/Forb Families and Species

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