Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Jack-in-the-pulpit

Next to Dutchman's Breeches, this wildflower has one of the most interesting blooms found in our eastern forests.

Unlike the former, Jack-in-the-pulpit isn't quite as easy to spot among the leaf litter and foliage.

When you do though, you're in for a treat.

This unmistakable flower looks as though it belongs in some tropical jungle, among orchids and palms. Indeed many individuals in this plant family are found in tropical regions.

Its distinctive bloom is made up of a leafy hood known as a spathe, which surrounds a central spadix.

The reproductive cycle for these plants is surprisingly complicated. The first year it blooms, Jack-in-the-pulpit is male. If the plant is well nourished, it will transform into a female flower by its second or third year. This cycle is known as paradioecious.

The flower (be it Jack or Jill) is usually green with maroon stripes on the inside. Some blooms are less colorful, and only come in green and white - which makes them especially difficult to spot!

Its leaves are usually trifoliate (in a whorl of 3) and can resemble trillium leaves. Their manner of emergence is a little different, however.

They tend to push through the soil like a spear point.

Jack-in-the-pulpit can be found blooming from April-May in rich woods and along stream banks throughout the entire eastern United States.

Its Latin name is Arisaema triphyllum, with triphyllum meaning "three leaves."

Jack-in-the-pulpit is a member of the Arum family, or Araceae. The plants in this family all share a similar flower structure, one of which is very familiar to the average person:

The Peace Lily.

Another name for Jack-in-the-pulpit is Indian Turnip or Pepper Turnip, which would indicate that it is edible. It is indeed - but only under certain circumstances. Were you to dig up an Indian Turnip, peel it and take a bite, you would be in for a very unpleasant experience.

Within this plant's structure is laced a network of microscopic crystals of calcium oxalate.

These create an intense burning sensation to those foolish enough to taste it raw. These sensations can last up to two weeks!

However, it has been consumed since Native American times, and is even still enjoyed by a few wild food enthusiasts in a pot of chili, for instance. The plant  must be cooked or dried to neutralize the calcium oxalate.

The Cherokee not only enjoyed it as a food source, but used it extensively in medicine.

They used it as a stimulant, expectorant, diaphoretic and a carminative. A root poultice was used for headaches. It was used to treat colds and dry coughs, and an ointment was created by stewing the green twigs in hogs lard for a condition known as "scald head."

Jack-in-the-pulpit has many other nicknames: Bog Onion, Brown Dragon, Indian Cherries, Marsh Turnip, Indian Cradle and Plant-of-Peace.

You will find no butterflies fluttering around these flowers, as they have little to offer the nectar lovers. They are instead pollinated by the humble fungus gnat.

The fruit that forms after pollination is rather interesting. It ripens to a brilliant scarlet red, and looks quite appealing.

Yet it is only for the birds to eat; and eat they will, for that is how the seeds of this plant are dispersed.

This fascinating plant is in full bloom in our neck of the woods, and perhaps you can find some near you. Just don't be tempted to take a bite!

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflowerDwarf Larkspur

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart

All About Tennessee Wildflowers - Jan W. Midgley


  1. Such a beautiful plant! It sort of has a roof over the opening of the flower..LOL! When we were in the Park mushroom hunting I was looking at all of the wildflowers and thinking of you! :)

    1. Sweet of you to think of me :). I've not gotten to get out on the trails much this year. They are too steep for Ian and he HATES riding in his pack.

  2. Very cool! Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop!

  3. That Jack-in-the-pulpit is a really neat plant. Very cool indeed. (Visiting from Crafty Spices)

  4. These are cool looking! I think I've seen them in our woods!

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. We'd love for you to link up again this week!