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.