October 20, 2015
Embarrassingly, I only learned recently that Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is an herb (it lacks woody tissue when mature). I also learned that all parts are extremely toxic to most animals, including humans, but that when cooked or dried, its corm (fleshy root) is edible. In fact, historically it apparently was a staple of some Native American cuisines, according to many sources, including the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
I'll leave the research on how to dry and cook it to you, since I won't be trying this one any time soon. It sounds too dangerous.
What I do know is that this beautiful, unique North American plant is extremely common in my woodland garden. In fact, volunteers pop up all over the place--probably by seed carried by birds who eat the berries.
The plant is common in most of eastern North America in woodlands, swamps, and marshes--but particularly common in deciduous forests, which explains why it will grow in part sun or in shade. It prefers humus-rich, moist soils. But when we had a summer-long drought in 2012, the plants came back in full force the following year.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit seems to prefer the same growing conditions as Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and various Trilliums. In fact, Jacks and Trilliums tend to bloom about the same time in my garden, and it can be hard to differentiate Jacks from Great White Trilliums (T. grandiflorum), unless blooms are present.
Often, I'll find colonies of these plants together in mid-spring.
Some Jacks are mostly green, with white stripes.
Others have fascinating patterns of brown to burgundy markings.
I enjoy watching the foliage unfurl on stems parallel to the flower stems.
They all seem to have different shapes and sizes.
Each individual plant has a gender. You can tell by looking under the hood! Also, each plant can change its gender from season to season. This excellent resource from Michigan State University explains the gender characteristics in great detail.
Oh, and another nifty thing is that pollinators are more likely to escape from a male flower than a female flower, because the males have an escape hatch!
After the flowers fade, the pollinated plants produce clusters of berries.
They begin bright green,
Change to multicolored,
And end a bright red that brightens the late summer and autumn landscape, if the birds don't get them first.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit grows 1 ft. to 3 ft. in height, and blooms from March to June, depending on your zone and the specific growing season. It's hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. It seems readily available from most garden centers in my area and from online North American native plant sellers.
I consider this plant a familiar old friend, as it grows wild and is wonderfully plentiful in my woodland garden.
I'm linking this post to Dozens for Diana over at Elephant's Eye on False Bay, a meme that celebrates a "plant a month" on blogs from around the world.