I have always been drawn to Jack-in-the-pulpit, and to the damp-wood aromas
and dappled light of its habitat. I revere this plant’s stately, regal posture.
I relate to its protective secrecy, growing beneath shady forest canopy,
beneath its own leafy umbrella, its flowers still further embraced
within and shielded beneath its own hooded cloak.
On a forest walk in early spring, I found myself in awe.
I was surrounded by the largest community of Jack-in-the-pulpit
I had ever seen. Spearing skyward.
Beholding their striking size and beautifully mottled colours,
I fell in love and my creative course was set.
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A Bit About Jack
Sheltered beneath the light green or deeper green & maroon spathe is the plant’s inflorescence, an unbranched fleshy stalk called a spadix. Somewhat sunken into the base of the spadix are many minute unisex flowers. Pollinated by flies, the individual plants cleverly avoid self-pollination by staggering male and female floral development.
Once pollinated, the spathe gives way to a tight cluster of smooth, green berries. Coinciding with the cooler nights of late summer, the berries turn a vibrant red-orange. Each berry produces 1-5 cream-white seeds. Each seed that is freed from the berry will germinate the following spring, producing a single rounded leaf. Seedlings need 3+ years of growth before they flower. Following the first year, the plant offers 1 or 2 leaves with 3 leaflets. These young, non-flowering trifoliate plants can be confused with Poison Ivy.
Jack, Humans & Wildlife
As a member of the Arum Family Araceae, all parts of this herbaceous perennial plant contain calcium oxalate crystals. While these crystals, if eaten raw, can mechanically injure the mouth, throat & kidneys, once thoroughly dried the acrid corm (root) is safe to eat. Historically, people ate the corm by slicing it fine or grinding it into flour. Medicinally, it was used to treat sore eyes, rheumatic joints, bronchitis, snakebites, and to induce sterility. Beyond this, the Meskwaki people added the raw, highly acrid corm to meat to cause their enemies pain & death.
Here in Southwestern Ontario, the bright red fruit of Jack-in-the-pulpit may account for 1/2 - 2% of the Wild Turkey & Wood Thrush diet.
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Newcomb, Lawrence. Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. New York, New York: Little Brown and Company, 1977.
Pell, Susan K. & Bobbi Angell. A Botanist’s Vocabulary 1300 Terms Explained and Illustrated. Portland,
Oregon: Timber Press, 2016.
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