Monday, August 4, 2014

Katniss - Arrowhead - Duck Potato

Katniss - Broad-leaved Arrowhead - Duck Potato

     Broad-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is currently in bloom in our wetlands and goes by a variety of names: Duck Potato, Wapato, and Indian Potato for instance. It is also called Katniss, a name now made more famous for its use for the main character in the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen. She was indeed named for this once very important food plant. 

Broad-leaved Sagittaria in bloom in Tuckahoe Park, Arlington, VA with its 3 white petals in whorls of 3.

     In fact most of it's names allude to its edible properties, including the tribal terms Wapato and Katniss. The underground tuberous roots are the most prominent food source and were very valuable to Native American Indian people, whether eaten raw or cooked. There are written accounts of indigenous women going into frigid waters in the middle of winter to try and obtain them. The tubers sometimes floated to the surface, but more often had to be worked free with much effort. The arrowhead-shaped (sagittate) leaves that give it its common (Arrowhead) and scientific (Sagittaria) names can also serve as cooked greens, as can the flower stalks prior to blooming. The Genus Sagittaria is named after Sagittarius the Archer which also gave the astrological symbol. It ranges from Canada into South America, and has also naturalized in such places as Hawaii, Australia, and many parts of Europe.
     Here's a short video on this wetland plant:

     Other tribes used it medicinally: the Cherokee used the leaves as an infusion to treat fevers, the Chippewa for indigestion, the Iroquois for treating boils, rheumatism, and as a laxative, and the Potawatomi for wounds and sores. Civil War doctor Francis Porcher's so-called "Confederate Ethnobotany" also mentions edible and medicinal uses to consider during war time.
     Arrowhead is also the host plant (food) for 5 different caterpillar species. The name name Duck Potato refers to its favored status in attracting ducks, something the Potawatomi tribe reported as part of their hunting tradition (though they prefer the seeds over the tuberous roots in most cases). With the popularity of the books and movies, I thought people might want to know a bit more about why the main character, a forager and hunter living a life of subsistence in a poor community, would be named for this once very valuable plant.

Arrowhead in bloom. The male flowers have yellow stamens while the female have bulbous green centers.

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