Simply The Best Natives-Jack-in-the-Pulpit


“Very little grows on jagged rock.

Be ground. Be crumbled,

so wildflowers will come up

where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.

Try something different.





Happy Earth Day!  I love this quote as it beckons me to surrender to my garden.  It is a source of life, death, peace, solace, beauty and love.  Right now is the time when the rebirth of the garden melds all these wonderful aspects.  So much life…a heaven on earth.

And as I watch early bulbs rise and flower, I also wait patiently for those lovely native wildflowers…the ones that sprout and bloom fleetingly.  Lasting but a short breath…barely here and then gone….rare….the spring ephemerals.

And one of my favorite rare wildflowers is, Arisaema triphyllum, also known as Jack-in-the-pulpit, part IMG_5789of the Arum Family (Araceae).  I was introduced to this wildflower as a child.  I saw a picture and recreated it for an art project…it was love at first sight.

So when I had a chance to grow this wildflower in my shade garden, I couldn’t wait.  And they have bloomed beautifully.  This unusual plant grows 1-2 feet in height and starts with three leaves growing from the stem.  Then the next part grows and is usually mistaken for the flower.  Actually the flower structure is made up of a spadix or Jack.  This Jack looks like a spike and can contain many tiny, green to purple flowers that are almost unseen.  The sheath-like spathe (striped pulpit above) encases the lower part of the spadix and then opens to form a hood extending over the top of the spadix.  

Jack-in-the-Pulpit, or what I refer to as Jack, is actually a native perennial herb found in dry and moist woods, swamps and marshes in Eastern North America, from Canada down to Florida and west to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and north to Minnesota and Manitoba.

The genus Arisaema, has over 170 species, and all but 2 are tropical.  These 2 species are rare and grow in North America.  The name Arisaema comes from the Greek word aris, referring to a plant in the Arum Family, and haema, meaning “blood” which refers to red spots sometimes found on the leaves of some species.   Triphyllum refers to the three leaves that grow first.

I love discovering the other names for wildflowers, and Jack has many:  Indian Turnip, Wild turnip, arum, three-leaved arum, dragon-turnip, brown dragon, devil’s-ear, marsh turnip, swamp turnip, meadow turnip, bog onion, priest’s-pintle and lords-and-ladies.  What a hoot to find out how some of these names came about.

amandaAs I profile this wonderful native plant, I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme.  And I am joining forces once again this year with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to buy native plants for my garden.  The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials, and happily one of those plants is Jack-in-the-Pulpit.  Check out her wonderful 2015 Spring Catalog to see which natives Ellen is selling this year.




Growing Conditions

Jacks grow easily from a corm shaped like a turnip in zones 3 to 9.  They can be grown from seed too, but take several years to flower.  Jacks have no issues with insects or diseases, and will grow under Black Walnut trees in heavy shade and wet conditions.

IMG_1654Jacks do prefer dappled sunlight to light shade in spring, and heavier shade later in the season. They require humus-rich, moist soil for most of their growing season.  They perform poorly in clay so I amended my shade garden with lots of compost.

Jacks flower from April to June and last for up to 2 weeks.  The plant first produces male flowers only, but as they age they will produce both male and female flowers, and produce red berries later in fall if cross-pollination occurs.

You can propagate this plant easily by dividing the little corms growing from the main corm.  I hope to attempt this in the fall and have more Jacks to spread around.  




Benefits to Wildlife 

IMG_3667Jacks are loved for their fall berries especially by woodland birds and small mammals. 

Because the foliage and corms contain calcium oxalate, which causes a burning sensation and irritation, many mammals such as deer and rabbits do not eat the foliage which is a bonus.

The flowers are pollinated by small insects like fungus gnats.





If the plant is properly dried or cooked it can be eaten as a root vegetable.  But caution should be used as eating the fresh root and foliage can cause irritation, poisoning and even death. 

IMG_6629Those who forage for this plant use mostly the roots or corm.  They cut the corm into thin slices and allow it to dry for several months.  Then they are eaten like potato chips, or crumbled them into batter for making biscuits and cakes.

Jack’s roots are also used as a starch to stiffen clothes.

Jack in the Pulpit root can be made into a poultice and used to treat headaches and various skin diseases.

The best use of this plant is in a shade, native plant, woodland or rain garden.  But if you find them in the wild please leave them undisturbed as they are rare. 




Folklore and Tales 

Some Native American women used the dried herb in water as a contraceptive.

Native Americans gathered the corms, dried or cooked them and ate them as a vegetable.  They added DSCN7865the dried, ground up root to bread dough as it is said to taste like chocolate. 

Some Native Americans were said to add chopped up corm to meat, and leave it for enemies as a deadly treat. 

In the 1800s, the partly dried plant was said to be used as an expectorant because it caused irritation.  It helped treat asthma, rheumatism, bronchitis and whooping cough.  It was also used to treat sore eyes and snakebites.

In the Language of Flowers, Jack-in-the-Pulpit represented ardor and zeal.  



jack collage
The berries as they turn red in fall


Do you grow any early woodland wildflowers?  Do you have a favorite wildflower?



Next up on the blog:  

Monday, I will have an update on the veg garden that I planted earlier in April.

I am linking in with Michelle for her Nature Notes meme at her blog Rambling Woods.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every week. 

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2015.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

61 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Jack-in-the-Pulpit”

  1. what a lovely plant, everything is lovely, the colour and shape of the leaves, and the berries. Shame that it has become rare. I was fascinated to read of all its uses.

    1. It is a shame we see so much less of it in our dwindling woods. But I am glad I shared it so it could be appreciated.

  2. Happy Earth Day too Donna, what a lovely plant Jack-in-the-pulpit is, lovely too that you can enjoy this wildflower in your own garden.

    1. I always wished I owned a few acres of woods where I could visit the wildflowers…but since I don’t, I plant the flowers I might have found there…

  3. Such an unusual flower and very pretty. I have never seen them in gardens here in southern Oklahoma. Perhaps it is too hot for them. I enjoyed learning more about them and enjoyed your pictures!

    1. Glad you enjoyed my Jacks! Perhaps it might be too hot or there is not enough moist shade for them. But they are native to OK in more shaded moist wild areas.

  4. I am so glad that you stopped by Welcome to the Gardenspot. I quite enjoyed this post on Jack. I remember my grandmother pointing them out in the mountain woods at here cabin in the Colorado Rockies. After reading your post, I am thinking that perhaps I could grow them where I grow the hostas and the Colorado state flower, columbine, grow wild. The soil is mostly clay so I would amend it. But I don’t think that I would be eating it.

  5. One of my absolute favorites Donna! My mom gave me one of these that “volunteered” in her garden and now I have a nice patch. I’ve been looking for them but so far no sign this year. I could never eat these! Way too beautiful. Love learning here.

  6. Jack-in-the-pulpit, I like it Donna, sort of like a carnivorous plant. This is definitely the sort of plant I should be adding to our woodland, and yet, already I find myself sneaking in some perennials which I have available and know only too well they are out of place.

    1. It does look carnivorous Alistair altho it isn’t….oh yes add some wildflowers to your woods…they come up early before most perennials.

    1. Yes I don’t think we share many if any wildflowers Kris but I like that…more flowers to learn about and enjoy then….love the many unusual and beautiful flowers of CA.

  7. I could never grow Jack at my old house, and here they are growing on their own–I won’t say like weeds but there’s quite a few of them. Both Jacks and trilliums have 3 leaves, but Jack leaves form a T and trillium leaves are spaced equidistantly, as I illustrate here.

    1. That is wonderful news Kathy! And yes the Jacks and trilliums do have similar leaves..thanks for pointing that out and including the link about their differences.

  8. I have often read about these plants or seen pictures, but have never seen one in the flesh… a lovely post with great photos and information! I may even have a go at growing one…. 🙂

  9. Happy Earth Day, Donna! I do grow our native jack in the pulpit, I have a tiny little clump of them that I grew from seed about 5 years ago. I think last year may have been the first time they flowered.

    1. That is pretty exact…they can take up to 5 years to finally bloom from seed…you are a very patient gardener Alison.

  10. Yes, I love Jacks! I’ve never planted any–they just pop up wild all over my woods and garden. Such a fascinating plant in all its stages–from emergence to bright, colored berries. Happy Earth Day!

    1. Another lucky person to have them growing freely Beth. It is too bad more of our original property was scraped clean…I might have found more wildflowers here if it hadn’t been so developed.

  11. It’s a great native plant. Unfortunately I have not been able to grow it successfully as in my garden it always got infected with rust.

    1. Wow I had never heard that before Jason so good to know and watch out for…but I am sorry it is not growing for you.

  12. We have a plant that grows wild in our garden very similar to your Jack, I always thought they were weeds! I shall have to treat them with more respect in future.
    Thanks for visiting and commenting on my Mosaic of blue doors.

  13. Lots to learn here! Long before it wasn’t ok to collect plants, my great aunt and I went off to the woods and brought back the first of my woodland plants – a Jack in the Pulpit – every year, under the side overhang of the porch I’d lean down to find it every spring. It’s a cold earth day here today – but found a flyer in the mailbox asking for help on Saturday for the big spring-earth-week clean-up at our local trail/park. Whether it feels like it or not, spring must be on its way.

    1. I know Barbara…not feeling like spring these last few days…cold and snowy here and even a nasty frost…what lovely memories you have about your aunt and you and the Jacks!

  14. These unusual and charminge plants are grown as perennials in Norway. I have not got one yet, but are planning 🙂 Especially after this useful informatilon!

  15. What an unusual and interesting plant! We probably have some smaller relatives here. Lovely photos with wonderful green leaves!
    Happy weekend!

  16. Interesting history ……. they really don’t look very appetising!
    We have pretty wood violets blooming around the garden, arriving years ago with leaf mould compost.

    1. No I agree not appetizing….oh I bet those wood violets are gorgeous….I should start seeing violets soon too.

  17. What a great plant to have! My mother always talked about seeing Jack-in-the-Pulpits growing in the woods as a kid. I’ve don’t know if I’ve ever seen one, though. There’s something very special about woodland plants and spring ephemerals. I just planted a couple Trilliums this year, and there are a few other things that bloom wild in the woods. My In-laws have Pink Lady Slippers growing in their woods – that was a great find!

    1. Oh I would give anything for Lady;s Slippers…they are lucky….very rare in the wild in NY now….the spring wildflowers are the best….

  18. I tried Jack in the Pulpit once, but it soon perished, no doubt because of the clay soil. It is a very interesting plant, and I dream of having a stand of it in the woodland garden. The most important reason I haven’t tried again is the price of these plants! But I am fortunate to have trillium cuneatum that grows prolifically in the woodland garden. They are quite beautiful, planted by God and not costing me a penny!

    1. Yes Jacks don’t like clay, but oh the trillium must be stunning. I occasionally find wildflowers here I did not plant but not many as they stripped the woods before they built.

  19. Hi Donna, belatedly commenting that I always used to look forward to finding our native Jack-in-the-Pulpit when on walks in the woods in Spring. Such a strange looking plant, and the berries are like little beacons in Autumn. Great choice.

    1. How wonderful you can see these in the wild Janet…and I love the idea of the berries being a beacon!

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