Okefenokee Gator Taters

Spatterdock root stem called “Gator Tater”. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

The waters of the Okefenokee Swamp, particularly the more open lakes, are often covered in bright green lily pads. The large white blooms of the American White Water Lily, Nymphaea odorata, might be the more recognizable of the species, but on my springtime trips, the Yellow Bonnet Lily, or Spatterdock, is more prevalent.

The Yellow Bonnet Lily, Nuphar advena, goes by several names: Spatterdock, Alligator Bonnet, or Pond lily to name a few. The yellow flowers are smaller and less elaborate the white lily, but these yellow dots can be seen all along the canoe runs of the Okefenokee. And if one looks close enough, there may be alligator eyes peering from between the rows of flowers.

Yellow Water Lily spatterdock flower and lily pads. Nuphar advena is native throughout the eastern United States and at some parts of Canada. Spatterdock was long used in traditional medicine, with the root applied to the skin and/or both the root and seeds eaten for a variety of conditions. The seeds are edible, and can be ground into flour. The root is edible too, but can prove to be incredibly bitter in some plants. Stephen C Foster State Park. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

The Spatterdock leaves are typically oblong and often stand up on their stems off the surface of the water, almost appearing to curl under the southern heat and humidity. The White Water Lily’s pads usually lie flat on the surface of the water.

Underneath the dark tannin-stained swamp water, the Bonnet Lily’s long petiole attaches to a rough looking stem, or rhizome, covered in leaf scars. When these rhizomes are stirred up or broken loose by marauding alligators or passing motor boats, they float to the surface and can often trick the eye into thinking an alligator lay on the surface. The leaf scars can resemble the rough ridges and scutes of an alligator’s back or tail.

Stages of Yellow Water Lily spatterdock flower and fruit. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

The starchy stems, much like that of a potato, were apparently cooked and eaten by the Indians and swampers of the Okefenokee and were called “Gator Taters.” If I come across a recipe in my swamper research, I’ll be sure to post it.

Published by William Wise

Hi, I’m conservation photographer and nature writer William Wise. Nature journaling and wildlife photography has been a favorite pastime since the ‘90s. I graduated from University of Georgia Warnell Forestry School's wildlife program in 1996. I'm currently an animal shelter manager/photographer and reside in Athens, Georgia, USA with my wife and two teenage daughters. My website www.williamwisephoto.com is a wildlife and birding photo website documenting the beauty, design and wonder of creation. I have a deep love of the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. I became a devoted Christian in 1993 under a campus ministry while studying wildlife biology. My love of the outdoors quickly turned into a love for the Creator and His works. Creation Speaks is my teaching ministry that glorifies our Creator and teaches the truth of creation. I am also a guest author at Lee's Birdwatching Adventures and The Creation Club. The theme of my blogging comes from The Message version of Psalms 104 -- "What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, You made earth overflow with your wonderful creations."

4 thoughts on “Okefenokee Gator Taters

    1. I just got back from another trip to Okefenokee last night! I can’t get enough and there is always more to explore and photograph. I try to break out of my mold and go somewhere else, but end up heading back to Oke! William


    1. They are also called Yellow Water Lilies by some. The difference between these and the White Water Lilies is the pads of WWL usually lie flat on the water, and the Yellow Bonnet Lilies (Spatterdock) leaves usually stand out of the water and are often curled. Thanks! William


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