Monday, April 26, 2010
This unusual flower is called Jack-In-The-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). They are a wildflower native to Missouri as well the rest of the Midwest and Eastern United States.. You will find them in deciduous hardwood forests growing in moist soil in the undergrowth. They are capable of reaching heights of up to 2 feet, but typically will be 8-12 inches. They are considered poisonous to livestock, which will graze on them if it is the only greens available to them. If you own cattle, sheep or horses that are allowed to graze in timbered areas that feature these flowers, it might be best to not let them graze in these areas until the plants are no longer present. Digging up the plants when they are found can help reduce their numbers if you are concerned for livestock. Otherwise these plants are beautiful and certainly very interesting to look at. The one pictured here was photographed today on a woodland trail behind my office at work. I found 5 total in the woods all within a few feet of each other. Their blooming time is limited to spring here in NW Missouri. In some areas they are capable of blooming throughout the summer. In the fall, bright red berries become evident.
These plants are perennial and will return year after year. They grow from an underground corm, that resembles a turnip. Long shoots will break through the ground and three leaves will form behind the peculiar bloom-like structure. They will range in color from purple, green and greenish-white. These flowers are easily grown in shade garden and make an interesting addition to your perennial shade garden. The flowers are sure to illicit many comments.
This plant goes by many names, and depending upon where you live can be called, Bog onion, Devil's ear, Marsh turnip, Brown dragon, Indian turnip,Plant of peace and Memory root. Much myth surrounds this interesting plant.....The Meskwaki indians would float the inner seed of this plant around in a cup of water. This was done to decide the fate of sick individuals. If the seed floated and rotated clockwise four times the patient could expect to recover from whatever illness was plaguing them. If the seed sank before completing four rotations it meant the patient would surely perish. The seeds were also ground up and placed in meat. The meat was left outside for the Sioux Indians (the enemy of the Meskwaki indians) to find. Believe it or not the Sioux indians would pick up the tainted meat and consume it, learning too late their mistake when they fell ill and died. They fell for this trick not once, not twice, but over and over again. Apparently never learning the cause of the illness and death of their tribe members. It was discovered if the root was left to dry for up to 6 months it could be ground into a powder and used to make bread. Apparently drying the root releases the toxins and makes it safe for consumption that causes illness or death. A poultice was made from the root and used to treat sores, and even snake bites.Early settlers adopted this practice from the Native Americans. There are many other lores attributed to this plant. Some stated the plant grew at the base of the cross at calvary, and the red streaks are from the fallen blood. Still another lore says that bears which were in hibernation for forty days could eat this plant and and fully recover from their long hibernation.
The design of the plant is very important for protection. The spathe which covers the “pitcher” of the plant protects the flower that is hidden inside at the base of the spadix. This prevents the tube from filling up with rainwater, which would wash away the pollen. Insects, especially gnats, are drawn into the spathe by a fungal smell emitted by the plant. They are attracted to the color of the pollen which covers the floor of the chamber. Because the tube is slippery, insects have a hard time leaving. There is a small flap formed by the leaves that smaller insects can fit through to complete pollination. Larger insects, including flies, however get stuck and often end their life in the base of the plant. Though the shape and design of the plant mimics that of a pitcher-plant, Jack-in-the-Pulpit is not carnivorous. The plant is also able to change sex. Most plants are males that become female in favorable conditions. Because the responsibilities of the female plant (seed production) require strength, plants may never become male or revert back if conditions suddenly change.