Friday, May 13, 2011

Spring Flowers: Jack-In-The-Pulpit

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Indian Turnip) is an easy flower to miss in the woods.  It is green, often with a little bit of brown, so it blends right in with the rest of the new spring undergrowth in the forest.  To further hide the flowers from view, the leaves of the plants (which can be mistaken for Poison Ivy) grow over the flowers.  They aren't hard to find if you are looking for them, but if you are walking along at a good clip, you'll probably walk right by them.  Newcomb's Wildflower Guide describes the flower as, "...a canopy (spathe) over a club-shaped spadix (the "Jack")..." (1977).  Most members of the family Ariceae (the Arum family) take this form. The true flowers on the plant cover the spadix and are too small to see.  In the fall, the plant produces a cluster of bright red poisonous berries.

A. triphyllum was used medicinally at one time by Native Americans.  In spite of the common name, "Indian Turnip," the plant is not easily safely consumed for food.  The root must be boiled and dried to remove the oxalic acid.  The leaves and berries are not edible. 

A. triphyllum is found in rich, moist woods throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 A. triphyllum at Weverton Cliffs, Maryland on Mothers Day, 2011.
 A. triphyllum in Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC in March 2010.  The 3-part leaves are visible to the right of the flower.
 A. triphyllum in Rock Creek Park in 2007.  I included this one because of the vine that was starting to grow around the flower.

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