It is midsummer in the marshes. The cattails are tall and are full of heavy brown seed-heads. Mallows blossom along the shores, smartweed is bright pink, the arrowheads are in bloom. Their plants fill the shallows and stand on the muddy shore. They may live at the water's edge or stand with the stems half submerged. And down in the mud is the thick white root-stock which the Indians knew as something edible, a starchy tuber they called Wapato or duck potato. This the women went out to gather in late summer and autumn when the starch was well stored in the roots. The women went into the muddy shallows and grubbed about with their toes and hands to uproot the "potatoes", and gathered them in when they floated. They were grated to make cakes or were roasted in hot ashes. The leaves of arrowhead are so distinctive they are never mistaken tor anything else. They are large, thin, veiny, in the shape of a large arrowhead or spearhead. There are many variations in Sagittaria narrow little leaves without the flanges, tiny, narrow arrow-shaped leaves. very broad leaves, some with short flanges or long flanges. Sagittaria latifolia, however, is the typical plant of the family and is the one found most commonly in Illinois ponds and swamps.
Sagittaria latifolia Willd.
Summer Swamps, ponds.
In July and August the arrowheads send up stout, pithy flower stalks set with round green buds arranged in threes in tiers up the stem. The buds open, and sparkling white flowers with three crinkled snowy petals glisten in the sun. They are arranged around the tight heads of green carpels or yellow stamens in a ball-like or somewhat flattened center.