Wetland Preacher: Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Wetland Congregation

The native wetland at the edge of our property gets more gorgeous every day. As you can see in the above photo, the Cinnamon Ferns and Atamasco Lilies are still magnificent. They serve as a fitting congregation for the latest additions: Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum). The Jacks are in front in the above shot — their three-part leaves make them easy to spot. Someone decided that their unusual flower structure (a spadix), which is surrounded by a leaflike hood (a spathe) looks like a preacher sitting in his pulpit, hence, Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Their other common name is Indian Turnip, because Native Americans ate the underground tubers. But don’t just dig one up and take a bite, please! Raw tubers are full of calcium oxalate crystals, which will burn your mouth like fire. Native Americans knew that cooking the tubers cancelled this effect, rendering them acceptable as vegetables.

My references tell me that Jack-in-the-Pulpits need constant moisture and at least medium shade to be happy. And, if you want them to set fruit (a festive cluster of red berries), the plants need to be well fed.

Periodic flooding of my wetland by the adjacent creek takes care of nutrient deposition for me, and my wetland remains at least damp except during the direst of droughts. A high canopy provides shade. My Jacks are responding by multiplying with enthusiasm.

I’ve got both forms — the green form:

Jack-in-the-Pulpit, green form

And the purple-striped form. Note the deep purple stem on this form:

Jack-in-the-Pulpit, purple form

The split is just about even between the two forms in my little wetland. Both are nice, but I think the purple form is quite an eye-catcher. If I were going to move some to other moist areas in my yard, I’d probably move the purple form. Although it is easier to simply spread the seeds where I want them. I’ve done this in a few spots. I sprinkled red berries in the late summer/early fall when I noticed them (they’re hard to miss), and now I’ve got Jacks preaching in spots where I had no Jacks previously.

This native wildflower is common in wetlands up and down the eastern side of the United States, and I think it’s under-appreciated.  If you’ve got a consistently wet, shady spot in your yard, I encourage you to consider planting some Jack-in-the-Pulpits.  Preaching the gospel of wetland significance is their speciality, and I think it’s a message that can’t be heard often enough.

Cicada Update

I told you yesterday here about the emergence of the first wave of periodical cicadas. This morning, my backyard, which has a protected southern exposure, was teeming with hundreds of emerging cicadas. It’s hard not to think of the movie, Alien, when you spot one just beginning to push itself out of its larval shell, as in this photo:

Here they come

That’s what the cicada at the top of the photo is doing. The one below is dangling from the husk of its former self as it dries its wings. I’m expecting the eerie humming to commence very soon.

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  1. Flowers come and (mostly) gone « Piedmont Gardener
  2. Current Bloomers « Piedmont Gardener

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