It’s not unusual to hear people rave about the benefits of ancient grains over ancient GMOs such as wheat and maize (corn).
But did you know you can grow one of the oldest cultivated food plants (as far back as 3,200 BC!) right at home?
Arrowroot, or Maranta arundinacea (muh-RAN-tuh a-run-din-uh-SEE-uh) in botanical circles, is a perennial plant that’s both attractive and practical.
Possibly originating in the Amazon rainforest, the plant is considered native throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
The starchy tubers of this herbaceous perennial are edible and full of B vitamins, while both humans and livestock may also eat the leaves.
A member of the Marantaceae family, it’s sometimes known commercially by the pseudonym of Curcuma angustifolia and is known by dozens of names globally, including:
- Bermuda Arrowroot
- Obedience Plant
- True Arrowroot
- West Indian Arrowroot
While this plant can be a little tricky to grow at first, it isn’t overly demanding and makes a bold statement in any garden or corner of your home.
Size & Growth
A moderate grower under most conditions and moderately fast in ideal settings, arrowroot can reach up to 5′ feet in height and just over 3′ feet wide at maturity.
In shadier spots, it tends to grow into thickets.
The plant has a shallow root system with multiple rhizomes that can grow up to 18″ inches long that sink deeper than the root system.
Above ground, the plant has many vertical, slender green stems that each bear a single lanceolate leaf.
The attractive, smooth green leaves measure up to just under 10″ inches long and 6: inches wide.
A cultivar, Maranta arundinacea ‘Variegata’, adds white variegation to the leaves for an even more spectacular look.
Flowering and Fragrance
Even the flowers on this plant are a sight to behold.
Blooming in spring and summer (or after approximately 90 days for new plants), the plant produces twin 1 to 3″ inch panicles of small, vibrant white to near-white, curved tubular flowers measuring ½” inch across.
The bottom petals are larger, providing a spot for pollinators to land.
While the plant does produce seed, this is a rare event.
Light & Temperature
Light is one area where arrowroot is most adaptable.
It doesn’t do well in full, direct sunlight and may be stunted in full shade but can handle just about anything in between.
Place your arrowroot in partial shade for a slower, thicker growth habit.
Meanwhile, for a faster, less cluttered plant, aim for a spot with dappled or bright, indirect sunlight.
It’s also beneficial to aim for partial shade when planting in lighter soils, as the arrowroot won’t consume nutrients as quickly.
Being a rainforest native, you’ll want high humidity for this plant.
It is quite tolerant of regular mistings and will benefit from a humidifier or pebble tray.
However, many commercial growers find it best-suited to greenhouse conditions.
Temperature-wide, the plant is very cold intolerant and will go dormant in temperatures below 60° degrees Fahrenheit and die in frost.
It is often grown outdoors as an annual in zones 9a and 9b.
Indoors, aim for a temperature range of 68 to 77° degrees Fahrenheit, although it can tolerate temperatures as high as 90° degrees Fahrenheit.
Avoid sudden temperature fluctuations, which can shock the plant and possibly damage it.
Watering and Feeding
This is perhaps the part that’s trickiest for first-time growers.
The trick is to make sure the soil stays consistently moist, not drying too much, and not forming standing water.
One trick some container growers use is to sit the pot in a bucket of water for 10 to 20 minutes, then remove and allow the excess to drain.
You can also use the soak-and-dry method by watering when the soil is dry to the touch.
Add water slowly and evenly, stopping when you see it begin to seep from the drainage holes.
Cut back on watering if you see the plant going into a dormancy phase in autumn (the leaves will begin to droop, and there’ll be no new growth).
Avoid using tap water as much as possible since the plant is extremely sensitive to calcium.
Container plants will benefit from a monthly dose of balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer throughout spring and summer.
In September, a single dose will generally give the plant everything it needs for the dormancy period.
Seaweed tonic is a viable alternative to regular liquid fertilizers.
Avoid using any fertilizer high in nitrates or fresh manure, which will harm the plant.
Soil & Transplanting
Arrowroot can handle most soil types as long as they are well-draining.
It can also handle most soil pH levels but works best in slightly acidic soil.
Loamy soils work best for the plant if you want good growth.
A good indoor mix is 1 part peat moss and 3 parts compost.
Adding some perlite or other aggregate for improved drainage.
A mulch of straw or pine needles for outdoor plants can help protect the roots from light frost.
You will need to repot a container specimen each spring, graduating to one pot size larger or dividing the plant.
Provide fresh soil when you do so.
Grooming And Maintenance
As a general rule, this plant doesn’t require any pruning, although you may wish to remove damaged or diseased stems.
More On Marantas
PropagatingArundinacea Maranta Plants
While it’s possible to propagate through seeds, these can be a rare phenomenon.
Instead, the fastest and easiest way to propagate is through division.
While harvesting or in the spring, separate the rhizome, so each piece has 1 to 2 unopened purplish-white growth buds.
You may also wish to prune away all mature leaves from the divided parts, leaving only the young shoots.
Water the plantlets 2 to 3 times per week until you see new growth start to come in more strongly.
Bermuda Arrowroot Pests or Diseases
Do not expose the plant to calcium or lime, as the plant is very sensitive to these mineral wastes.
Grasshoppers and spider mites tend to be the most common pests for arrowroot, while rust fungus will appear if the plant is exposed to the minerals mentioned above.
Overwatering or standing water may result in root rot,
The plant is edible for both humans and animals.
Maranta Arundinacea Uses
The root may be eaten raw, but it is usually refined to separate the starch from the fiber.
The starch, which is sweet and full of B vitamins, is highly digestible and used not only as a thickener in cooking but may be used as flour and even fed to infants.
The leaves may be used for feeding livestock, and young shoots and leaves may be prepared similarly to spinach.