May 28 2014
When I found this Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) blooming in Schenley Park, he begged for an opportunity to explain himself.
Go ahead, Jack. What’s on your mind?
First off, I’m not always a guy. I’m both male and female but not at the same time. What you call “Jack” is my spadix whose base is covered in tiny male or female flowers. I can turn them off and on depending on my age and environmental conditions. Sometimes I’m male. Sometimes I’m female. Call me Jack or Jill.
I’m pollinated by fungus flies so I smell like a mushroom. (Oh, really?)
My pulpit is called a spathe — rhymes with bathe. My hood looks like a garden spade if you open it up. I’m not happy when you do that but I understand the temptation.
Botanists cannot decide whether I am one or three species. I, personally, am all green inside. Some of us have fancy stripes. Click here to see.
My trifoliate leaves start near the ground and sometimes look unrelated to me, but they’re mine. Yes, they look like “leaves of three.” No, I am not poison ivy.
When I’m female I’m quite pretty in the fall. I drop my spathe and develop a cluster of bright red berries on my spadix. Check back in a few months and you’ll be impressed.
And finally, don’t eat me. I’m full of calcium oxalate. Native Americans had recipes for my use but you have to know their special preparations or you’re in for a nasty burning, possible sterility or poisoning.
(photo by Kate St. John)