Really Big Leaves

DSC_0660True confession time: although I enjoy seeing and learning about plants, I am not really a botanist. I’m more of an ecologist who fools around with plants (among other things). So, I may have a mental image of how a plant is “supposed” to look, or grow, and then I encounter something else in real life, and it’s a bit disorienting. This happens because my past experiences have been too narrow, and I need to see more plants, in more places, to get a more complete idea of how the plant really grows.

Such is perhaps the case with some really large Arrowhead (Saggitaria) leaves. At River Valley Wetland in Cedar County, I found what I considered to be really large leaves—growing up to my upper chest, perhaps 3.5 feet/ tall. I am more accustomed to them being perhaps knee-height, or maybe mid-thigh. But…their height is variable. In addition, we have seven species reported in Iowa, so I need to move beyond my idea of the “Common” Arrowhead (Saggitaria latifolia) so familiar to me, and be mindful of other possibilities.

DSC_0659It’s fun to ask why certain individuals or populations may be taller than the norm. The usual scenario might involve water depth: plants growing in rising waters (ever-deeper) may elongate their stems (petioles) to allow parts of the leaf or stem to stick up out of the water, allowing for access to air. Remember, the cells of the plant by-and-large use aerobic (oxygen-dependent) metabolism. Access to air for gas exchange is often important…although water may also reduce light availability.

But when I looked around in late summer, the water levels in the wetland were down. It was easy enough to examine the plants and get a few photos, too. I found the Milkweed (probably Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata) especially tall and pretty. What do you think…?

DSC_0664If you visit this site, you might enjoy visiting the bird blind near the wetland. I’m not sure of the typical condition—I found a wall of timber between the blind and the wetland; the view might be better before leafout in spring? I saw feeders installed near the openings in the blind; maybe they operate in winter?

Speaking of food, I make one last confession: I arrived late in the afternoon…hungry…and I helped myself to quite a bit of fruit growing along the trail. Plenty of Mulberry (Morus)…so I had a nice snack; I also noted Cherries (Prunus), and Currant (Ribes) on the menu.

All in all, another great visit at another of Iowa’s amazing wetlands. Come back next week for further adventures! Thanks.


Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

2 thoughts on “Really Big Leaves”

  1. I’m not a botanist, but it sure looks like classic Swamp Milkweed to me. Lovely flowers — too bad it’s not possible to photograph the fragrance. And that sunlit stand of Arrowhead is gorgeous.

    I wonder if visiting in spring would reveal spring-blooming wildflowers that are concealed by late summer. That would be expected in a prairie, but I have a lot to learn about wetlands.


    1. Glad you like the photos! Wetlands do indeed have changes in the flora through the growing season. It would be fun to revisit a particular wetland through the months, documenting those changes…hmmm…


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