Arisaema triphyllum plus other species (debated)
Araceae / Arum family
Also known as Indian-turnip
Similar to Lords-and-Ladies in the UK (Arum maculatum)
A North American Wildflower, found in mid to eastern areas

The name Jack-in-the-Pulpit aptly describes an anthropomorphic view of the inflorescence of this plant. The “Jack” is a spike (botanically called a spadix) covered in teeny flowers. The “pulpit” is a modified leaf (botanically called a spathe) that surrounds the spadix and and forms a lip which leans over and covers the “jack”. So basically, Jack is standing in and under the pulpit. One source said “The spadix and sheath resemble the roofed pulpit sometimes found in European churches and cathedrals”*

The multiple little flowers become larger fruits in the way flowers do. In late summer the "pulpit" along with the rest of the leaves disappear. By autumn the spike is crowded with berries that are first black then red.

The spadix and spathe/bract(the hooded part) arrangement is first visible in mid spring. It emerges from the ground as a tightly wrapped, pointy cigar looking thing, often with the tri-segmented leaf showing above. Then it uncurls to reveal the fresh, pale green “Pulpit” and “Jack”. The pulpit later darkens to maroon/purple/brownish striping on a darker green.

The whole inflorescence is a popular feature in dried flower arrangements. But the plant is endangered and should not be harvested in the wild for flowers, transplanting or seeds.

If you have the moist shade and highly organic soil needed it is not difficult to grow and plants are available through nurseries, commercially propagated.

Historically, the corm (said to look like a turnip) was harvested, sliced and dried for medicinal use. One source said it was also used raw as a poison and cooked as a vegetable by Native Americans. The active ingredient, calcium oxalate crystals, is present in many plants of the arum family . These crystals cause burning, local irritation and swelling. One popular houseplant is called “Dumb Cane” because ingestion of any part of it (along with the calcium oxalate crystals) renders one unable to speak. Drying, heat and age diminish this effect but it is not recommended this Jack-in-the-Pulpit be taken internally now.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit grows best in shady swamps and damp woodlands with lots of organic matter in the soil and light to deep shade. It is an herbaceous perennial and grows 1 to 2 feet tall from the tuberous root. In addition to the modified leaf that forms the pulpit there are less unusual, basal leaves that orient themselves horizontally and are divided into 3 segments. They look a lot like Trillium leaves.

I came across a large patch of still pale green Jack-in-the-Pulpits the other day while walking at Patuxent and was able to get some lovely photos along with wet and muddy knees…

* (by far the best resource and full of tips on how to grow your own)

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