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.
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.
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.
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)