1259 Arisaema triphyllumCommon Names: Jack-in-the-pulpit,Indian turnip Family: Araceae (arum Family)
Flowering in early spring before the trees leaf out, this woodland spring ephemeral is well known to most wanderers in nature. Jack-in-the-pulpit is a highly variable species throughout its range and can have a different appearance from place to place.
The Jack-in-the-pulpit is an herbaceous perennial that grows 6-20 in (15-50 cm) tall from a spherical underground corm that can be up to 2 in (5 cm) in diameter. Jack-in-the-pulpit has no stems and just one or (usually) two leaves held on long, erect petioles, each leaf divided into three narrow leaflets, 3-6 in (7-15 cm) long. The inflorescence is a hooded spathe (the pulpit), sometimes with purplish or whitish stripes, that stands 4-6 in (10-15 cm) tall, and persists for several weeks in spring and summer. Inside the spathe, the cylindrical (usually purple) spadix (that would be Jack) stands erect under the arching hood, extending a little above the lip of the spathe. The spadix is covered with tiny white or greenish flowers. In autumn, Jack-in-the-pulpit sports showy clusters of large bright red berries, around 3/8 in (1 cm) in diameter.
Three subspecies are recognized, differing primarily in colors of the leaves and inflorescence parts.
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is often common in moist woodlands, floodplains and hammocks from Quebec, west to Alberta, and south to eastern Texas and central Florida.
Light: Partial shade suits the Jack-in-the-pulpit just fine. They seem to do best under deciduous trees where they get more sun in late winter and very early spring, but filtered, partial sun in the growing season. They can even survive in full shade. Moisture: Jack-in-the-pulpit likes a neutral to acidic, moist soil that is high in organic matter and drains well. During the growing season they need a soil that stays moist, but is not waterlogged. They do not survive in clayey soils or well drained sandy soils. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9 . Propagation: Tuberous offsets, when produced, can be used to start new plants. The tubers (actually, corms) should be planted rather deep, 4-8 in (10-20 cm), because the roots grow from their tops. Seeds can be removed from the ripe berry and planted immediately. Expect them to germinate the following spring and take three or more years to reach flowering size.
Grow this sylvan pixie in a cool, partly shady spot in a naturalistic woodland garden. They look best in clusters of three or more specimens. The brilliant scarlet berries are showy in late summer and provide a food source for song birds and other wildlife.
Jack-in-the-pulpit (especially the corms) has a high concentration of needlelike calcium oxalate crystals and is generally considered to be inedible. However, native Americans mashed, boiled and roasted the tubers, then ground them to produce an edible flour.
It is said that some native American also poisoned meat with the fresh finely chopped (and tasteless) tubers and left it out for their enemies who would sicken and sometimes die from the trickery.
There are some 150 species in the genus Arisaema, occurring in Africa, Asia, Malaysia and eastern North America. Green dragon (A. dracontium) is a common woodland species from eastern North America that is larger than Jack-in-the-pulpit and has just one leaf that has 7-15 leaflets.
Even though a single Jack-in-the-pulpit has flowers of both sexes, the species is not self-pollinating. Male flowers are produced first, and then after they have matured, the plant produces female flowers. Thus the female flowers must be pollinated by male flowers from a separate plant. This insures outbreeding which favors variability in offspring, which is a good thing in environments that might themselves be variable from time to time.
Jack-in-the-pulpit (especially the corms) has a high concentration of needlelike calcium oxalate crystals and is generally considered to not be edible unless carefully and skillfully prepared.
Steve Christman 5/1/16