Peltandra virginica is a perennial, aquatic, monocotyledon herb, to about 40 cm tall, stemless, colonial from thick rhizomes.
Leaves all basal, stalk 20-60 cm long often purplish, blade 10-45 cm long, 6-25 cm wide, arrow-shaped, with basal lobes flaring outwzard (hastate), thick, slightly fleshy, smooth, prominently 3-veined, from the insertion of the stalk, a central vein in each large, basal lobe, collecting vein around leaf margin.
Flowers white to (occasional.) orange, minute, densely crowded on a fleshy inflorescence spike (spadix), 10-25 cm long, mostly hidden by narrow, cylindrical, pointed, green bract (spath) with a bulbous base, white margins of spath open as flowers bloom; inflorescence monoecious, male flowers along upper part of spike, female flowers on broader base; erect when blooming, becoming prostrate in fruit (Radford et al. 1968); blooms May-June; pollinated by Elachiptera formosa (Diptera: Chloropidae), a chloropid fly (Thompson, S. A. 1993+).
Fruit fleshy berries, 0.6-1.5 cm wide, green to purplish, infructescence 3-6 cm wide, berries partly covered by base of spath; flesh slimy, brown, 1-3 seeded; often held under water surface by curved inflorescence stem; fruits Aug.-Sept.; seeds eaten by wood ducks and some other water birds. Fruit dispersed mostly by water, animals may also be dispersers (Thompson, S. A. 1993+).
Wetland status: OBL.
Frequency in NYC: Occasional.
Habitat: Open shallow water, pond edges, stream banks, soil pH 5.2-9.5, tolerant of anaerobic soil, moderately tolerant of shade, intolerant of drought, fire, salt, but does tolerate slightly brackish tidal areas (Thompson, S. A. 1993+; USDA, NRCS 2006). Often planted in wetland restorations and mitigations.
Notes: The pollinating flies mate inside the inflorescence. Eggs are deposited in the inflorescence, and larvae feed on the rotting male part of the spike. Native Americans used most parts of the plant as food (Thompson, S. A. 1993+). Cooking or drying is necessary to destroy the calcium oxalate crystals that make the raw plant parts extremely irritating (Peterson 1977; Fern 2004). However a protein destroying enzyme or other chemical my be the primary cause of irritation (Thompson, S. A. 1993+).