Ecology Kyle Griffiths

Water Plants, Food and Literature

by Kyle Griffiths

I have a confession to make. After I saw the movie last spring, I became a fan of the young adult series “The Hunger Games.” I have read all three books, and I think they are extremely creative and rich. One detail I love is the familiar things that have been given new appellations (Muttations for mutations, for instance). Coining new sound-alike names for familiar things after a cataclysmic event has changed the world is not unique to the Hunger Games, though. In “The Golden Horn,” by Edgar Pangborn, the very same word is changed from mutations to “Mues.”

The katniss root, which gives its name to the main character, is another example of a changed name. The edible tuber called Arrowhead, Sagittaria latifolia, fits the description of the katniss root in many particulars, such as the leaf shape and number of flower petals. The arrowhead-shaped, or hastate, leaves have obviously given this plant its common name, and clearly appropriate to the bow-wielding heroine. She could indeed have come across it in Appalachia, where District 12, her homeland, is located, since the Arrowhead is widely distributed throughout North America. I couldn’t find it in the wild when I first learned about it for a pond I was building, but I found it growing recently in the constructed spillway at the north border of the Jensen Ranch area near Woodward Park.

Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)

Incidentally, I have noticed another edible root with arrow-shaped leaves around town lately. I am a casual observer of plants but I have noticed a lot of landscaping with taro. Taro is the archetypal South Pacific staple, a plant that’s been subject to an upriver migration from the sea to the mountains.

Taro (Colocasia esculenta)

There is another immigrant water plant; you can see it growing in dense bunches with many leaflets coming directly off the long flexible stems trailing in the current of our roadside canals. The fish there use it for shelter and pick at it for food, but it also has a decorative purpose. Aquarists use it in fish tanks and know it by the trade name of anacharis. College students call it elodea and use it as a subject in wide variety of experiments. It is excellent for some demonstrations because it photosynthesizes so rapidly that you can see bubbles trickling out of a cut stem if you hold it upside down. It’s so fast growing that it’s earned the nickname “water weed,” and the three species of elodea grow in various parts of North and South America and have been introduced abroad.

Maybe you are wondering why I’m writing about plants for an aquarium blog; after all, aquariums are places you go to see animals, not plants. However, I became aware of many lovely aquatic plants through my interest in fish-keeping and aquariums and I’ve continued to be interested in them as a vital part of natural aquatic systems, where fish use them for food and shelter and even lay their eggs on them.