If you have a water garden, or are planning to put one in, you want something beautiful growing in it. If you also like growing your own food, you can double your enjoyment of your water garden by growing Wapato. Also known as Arrowhead, Duck-Potato, and Sagittaria Latifolia, this native water plant used to grow abundantly in ponds, wetlands, and along river banks in most parts of the country.
Wapato is the trade name used by many Native American tribes for the tubers of the Sagittaria Latifolia plant. These tubers served the same purpose as potatoes did back before that vegetable was introduced to this country from South America. In fact, the Lewis and Clark explorers lived off Wapato and elk meat during part of their famous voyage west. Wapato can be used instead of potatoes in many dishes, and has a sweeter taste.
Wapato grows up to 3 feet tall in still or slow-moving water, or in soggy soil along the water's edge. It grows distinctive 3-pointed leaves that are shaped like arrowheads, and produces pretty, white flowers. Plant the tubers (available for sale from many sources online) in mud-filled containers in shallow water (6-12 inches deep) in the spring. The plants can tolerate full sun to partial shade. If you plant them in a pond, keep in mind that these plants are fast growers, and may take over. As you would with a water garden, put them in submerged containers along the shore to control them.
One of the reasons why Wapato is also called Duck-Potato is because ducks just love the tubers. They dive down and poke around in the mud, releasing the tubers which float to the surface. Traditional harvesting by Native Americans was done in the fall. Women would wade out into the water and dig in the mud with their toes. When the tubers popped up to the surface, they would put them in baskets in canoes. In your water garden, you can use a broomstick or your hand to loosen up the tubers.
Wapato can be used instead of potatoes or rice in your favorite dishes. You can fry, boil, or bake them. There are some terrific recipes online (one of them involves glazing the Wapato with maple syrup -- Mmm), or you can experiment on your own. Remember, it goes well with elk meat.