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Arrowroot Canna indica

Other plants called Arrowroot:

Previously known as:

  • Canna achiras
  • Canna edulis
Phonetic Spelling
KAN-uh IN-dih-kuh
This plant is an invasive species in North Carolina
Description

Arrowroot is a tropical and subtropical perennial plant that forms dense clumps and produces showy flame-red flowers on erect stems. The leaves are large, green to violet-green in color, and paddle-shaped. This species has been cultivated for over 4000 years as a food crop in Central and South America. The plant may grow to 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It is a member of the Cannaceae family.

Arrowroot is a native of Central America, South America, and the West Indies. Its primary habitats are sites with heavy rain-fall, disturbed areas, roadsides, and the outskirts of villages. The plant has been naturalized in the Southeastern United States, portions of Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, portions of Australia, and the Pacific Islands.

The genus name, Canna, is from the Greek word "Kanna," which means reed-like plant.

Arrowroot prefers sunlight, moist, well-drained soils with a preferably acidic pH. The plant may grow in soil types such as sand, clay, loam, and chalk. The rhizomes need to be spaced about 3 feet apart and 4- 6 inches deep after the last frost in the spring. The rhizomes will rot in poorly drained soils. Remove the spent flowers to encourage continuous flowering from August to October.  After the first frost in the fall, the plants should be cut to the ground. The plant is winter hardy in USDA Zones 8 through 11. In areas where the plant is not winter hardy, the rhizomes should be lifted from the ground for winter storage. The rhizomes should be stored in peat or vermiculite in a cool dry area. It is best to mist the rhizomes with water over the winter to prevent shriveling. Arrowroot may be propagated by division or by seeds.

The leaves may grow up to 24 inches long and 8 inches wide. They appear broad, waxy, and ovate to elliptical in shape. The large flowers appear at the top of the stalk. The corolla is about 2 inches long and at the lowest point, it is fused into a tube with the 3-4 free lobes. The blooms range in color from red to yellow-orange. The fruit is an ovoid capsule with soft spines. The small seeds are very hard and dark brown to black in color.

The rhizomes are edible and may be eaten raw. It is preferable to serve them cooked. The rhizomes are processed to produce a starch known as achira. It was a food source during the Great Chinese Famine of the 1950-1960s. The rhizomes may be used to produce vermicelli, white wine, and ethanol. The leaves have been used in South America to wrap tamales. The leaves also served as a food source for livestock. The seeds are used to make jewelry or musical instruments such as a rattle.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, moths, and bats are attracted to the plant's flower. 

Arrowroot is a stunning and brilliant large plant for a cottage garden, informal garden, patio, or container. The flowers last about 1-2 days but new blooms appear constantly through the growing season.

Caution: Arrowroot has been declared invasive in South Africa, Australia, the Pacific Islands, Tanzania, and Ghana.

Diseases, Pests, and Other Problems:

Diseases affecting the Arrowroot include Canna rust, Canna yellow mottle virus, and Canna yellow streak virus. Some varieties are more disease-resistant. Pests commonly found include Canna leaf roller moth, Japanese Beetles, and Bird Cherry Oat Aphid

 

VIDEO Created by Elisabeth Meyer for "Edibles, Bulbs, and Houseplants" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.   

More information on Canna.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Collector’s Garden
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Purpurea'
    Bronze colored leaves and orange red flowers
  • 'Red Stripe'
    Purple leaves and red flowers
'Purpurea', 'Red Stripe'
Tags:
#showy flowers#perennials#red flowers#showy leaves#large leaves#cottage garden#edible roots#rhizomatous#pollinator plant#patio planting#pollinator garden#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#tropical feel#container plants
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Purpurea'
    Bronze colored leaves and orange red flowers
  • 'Red Stripe'
    Purple leaves and red flowers
'Purpurea', 'Red Stripe'
Tags:
#showy flowers#perennials#red flowers#showy leaves#large leaves#cottage garden#edible roots#rhizomatous#pollinator plant#patio planting#pollinator garden#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#tropical feel#container plants
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Canna
    Species:
    indica
    Family:
    Cannaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The hard black seeds of the Arrowroot were used in the 19th century as bullets when ammunition was limited. The seeds are also used for making jewelry and musical instruments such as rattles. The leaves are used for wrapping tamales in South America. Starch is produced by grinding or pounding the tubers.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Central America, South America, and the West Indies
    Distribution:
    Native: Central America, South America, and the West Indies; Naturalized: Southeastern United States--FL, TX, LA, SC; portions of Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania--Australia, Fiji, New South Wales, and Tonga.
    Wildlife Value:
    Hummingbirds and bees are attracted to the flowers during the day. Bats and moths visit during the night.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Colorful
    Bulb Storage:
    Cool and dry area.
    Edibility:
    It has been cultivated as a food crop for over 4000 years in Central and South America. The tubers may be eaten raw or cooked. A starch suitable for baking is produced by pounding or grinding the roots. The starch is called achira and is used to make cellophane noodles in Vietnam. The leaves are used in South America to wrap tamales. The leaves are also fed to livestock.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 1 ft. 6 in. - 8 ft. 2 in.
    Width: 1 ft. 6 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Bulb
    Perennial
    Habit/Form:
    Clumping
    Erect
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    8b, 8a, 9b, 9a, 10b, 10a, 11b, 11a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Brown/Copper
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is an ellipsoid or globose chestnut-colored capsule that is covered with soft spines. The fruit measures 0.5 to 1 inch in diameter. The capsules contain a large amount of hard black seeds that are 0.2 inches in diameter.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Panicle
    Raceme
    Spike
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Long Bloom Season
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Lipped
    Tubular
    Flower Size:
    3-6 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flower is a single terminal spike-like inflorescence at the top of the stalk. The corolla is 1.5 to 2 inches long. The lowest point of the corolla fuses into a tube. The bloom has 3-4 free lobes. The flowers may last 1-2 days, but new blooms are constant and continue during the growing season from August to October.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Leaf Feel:
    Waxy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Sheath
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Rosulate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Lanceolate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are broad, green or violet-green, and elliptical to ovate in shape. The base of the leaf is rounded, and the tips taper to a point. The leaf size is 12 to 24 inches long and 4 to 8 inches wide.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Patio
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Mass Planting
    Attracts:
    Bats
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Problems:
    Invasive Species