Jack Explains Himself

Jack in the Pulpit, Schenley Park, 16 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)
Jack in the pulpit, Schenley Park, 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

28 May 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 make my flowers either male or female 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.

My pulpit is called a spathe — rhymes with bathe.  My hood looks like a garden spade if you open it up.  Be careful if you do that.  Don’t hurt me.

Botanists cannot decide whether I am one species or three.  My photo, above, shows that I’m all green inside but some of us are striped. 

Striped flower of Jack in the pulpit (photo by Kate St. John)

My trifoliate leaves start near the ground and sometimes look separate from me, but they’re mine.  Yes, they look like “leaves of three.” No, they’re not poison ivy.

Trifoliate leaves of Jack in the pulpit (photo by Kate St. John)

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 I’ll look like this … if I’m Jill this year.

Jack in the pulpit gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)

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 nasty burning sensations, possible sterility, or poisoning.

(photos by Kate St. John)

7 thoughts on “Jack Explains Himself

  1. I have several of these in the garden and mine are striped!!! Sorry Jack or Jackie…they were some rescue babies from the bulldozer next door…same as the wild ginger and other native flowers…even a native hydrangea and spice bushes

    1. Marcy, your Jack-in-the pulpits are more typical of western PA. I think the ones at Schenley Park were planted. Beautiful as Schenley is, it’s a huge “garden.”

  2. The woods behind my childhood home on the Wilkins Township/Penn Hills Border had loads of Jack-in-the-pulpit. All stripes as as far as I can remember. I was also treated to Blood Root, Jewel weed, Virginia creeper, Mayapple. So many lovely woodland plants. I spent so much time wandering around out there, I really loved them.

  3. I’m thinking of cowboy movies too, but i’m certain they used to make a soft drink, like root beer, out of this stuff.

  4. I had these in my back yard as a child, and in the woods behind my house when I lived in NY. Love them. I did not know all this information about them though. Thank you for all this “news” about them.

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