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Arrowheads blooming in the shallows

According to the calendar, this week of early August is mid-summer; halfway between the solstice on June 21 and the equinox of Sept. 21. Now in the middle part of this warm season, many roadside, field and meadow plants have reached maturity in t...

According to the calendar, this week of early August is mid-summer; halfway between the solstice on June 21 and the equinox of Sept. 21. Now in the middle part of this warm season, many roadside, field and meadow plants have reached maturity in their growth. Some even exceed us in height. Smaller plants are out-competed in their quest for sunlight and even out in the open, they may be in shade of these giant neighbors.

Along the edges of swamps, ponds and lakes; however, littler plants continue to flourish. Indeed, with the recent dry times, the receding water levels have opened up new shoreline spaces for these plants of the shallows to thrive. Many lake-front owners have seen how the on-going drought has made for a bigger shoreline. Boats and docks may be now on dry land. Quick to colonize, these open sites are taken by vegetation and now they cover a territory formerly under water just a few years ago.

One of the many growing here and taking advantage of the present scene is a plant called arrowhead. Unlike many of the other wild flowers and grasses, arrowhead roots reach into the water. Here, along with cattails and sedges, they get a head start on the movement into the bays.

Arrowheads get their name from the large pointed leaves which grow to about a foot long and maybe half that in width. The leaves are not only pointed at the apex, but they also sport two long extending spurs; near the base. Flowers are large, in excess of one inch, white and composed of three petals. They grow in small clusters on a stalk that often extends up to, or beyond, the growth of the leaves. Blossoms appear in late July and may persist through August, but, being true summer flowers, they do not last into the fall

Broad-leaf arrowheads may grow up to two feet tall, but usually less. Though named after the unique shape of the leaves, that form is not the only type of arrowhead. Anyone wandering the shore of a lake or paddling nearby at this time will notice other white-flowering plants here, too. Like most of our local flora, arrowheads will vary. Some have oval leaves and reach only a few inches above the water, while others have their grass-like leaves emerging from the shallows. But all arrowheads share the white blossoms of three petals.

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As many of the swamp plants do, arrowheads survive the winter in underground roots called tubers. The starch-filled growths contain the plant's nutrients that allow it to live for many years. Arrowhead tubers are edible for animals, including humans. If anyone is willing to go through the bother of digging them out, after processing, they can serve as a starchy potato substitute.

But for most of us, they remain a mid-summer flower of the shallows that is interesting to look at and is taking advantage of these dry times.

Larry Weber is author of the "Backyard Almanac." He lives in Carlton County and teaches natural science at Duluth's Marshall School.

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