Jack-in-the-Pulpit - (Arisaema triphyllum)


Common Name: Jack-in-the-Pulpit
Scientific Name: Arisaema triphyllum
Family: Arum (Araceae)
Other Common Names: Indian turnip, marsh pepper
Flower Color: Green with sometimes purplish hood
Habitat: Wetlands - swamps and bogs
General Bloom Dates: April - June

General Characteristics:
The spathe or flower-like leaf of the Jack-in-the-pulpit is very modest, often displaying a plain green hood over the spadix, which is just visible emerging from within the hood like a tall club. The exceptionally flashy Jack-in-the-pulpit may have deep purple stripes on the spathe. Although it is not technically a carnivorous plant many insects meet their fate within the hooded spathe, due to its slippery, steep, inner walls. They are attracted into the "pulpit" by a fungus-like odor produced at the base of the spadix, which is intended as a lure for pollinators. The flowers, which are hidden within the spathe, are usually unisexual. However, it is difficult to tell without cutting into the spathe to examine the base of the spadix for the round berry-like female flowers or the filamentous male flowers. A good guideline for determining if the plant is a male or female is by judging the size and number of leaves. The larger the plant and the more leaves (two, as opposed to a single leaf) the more likely it is to be female. This changes annually, as the corm, or underground stem of the plant stores food and determines the plants sex via the amount of food stored from year to year. The more food reserved, the larger the plant, and the more likely it is to be female. The corms may produce plants for up to 20 years. The large divided leaf of the Jack-in-the-pulpit has 3 leaflets, and is usually alone with a single spathe, and in some cases, as mentioned, there are 2 leaves per spathe. The plant can attain heights of 1'-3'. After fertilization the spathe wilts to reveal a cluster of red berries, which may be food, for wild Turkeys, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Wood Thrushes.

Plant Lore:
There are arguments among botanists as to whether there is only one species of Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) with different variations, or three distinct species (A. atrorubens, A. triphyllum, and A. stewardsonni).
As in other Arums, Calcium oxalate crystals are found in the leaves, corms, and fruit of the Jack-in-the-pulpit. Meskwaki tribesman used freshly ground corms mixed in with meat as a toxic treat to their Sioux neighbors, who died painful deaths, due to the caustic nature of the Calcium Oxylate. If eaten alone and raw, Jack -in-the-pulpit would have a peppery taste and burn the mouth, hence the name "marsh pepper". On the other hand many native tribes dried the corms in thin strips or ground it into a powder, and used it as an internal medicine for colds and bronchial irritations and as a poultice for external ailments such as aches and sores.