The preacher of spring

By SANDY LONG
Posted 5/25/22

When in bloom, one of the more easily identifiable native plants to be found in the Upper Delaware River region is “Jack-in-the-pulpit” (Arisaema triphyllum), a delightful spring …

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The preacher of spring

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When in bloom, one of the more easily identifiable native plants to be found in the Upper Delaware River region is “Jack-in-the-pulpit” (Arisaema triphyllum), a delightful spring wildflower that heralds the return of the warmer seasons. Also known as Indian turnip, this shade-loving long-lived perennial prefers rich, moist forests and floodplains, but can also be cultivated in shade gardens.

The winsome woodland wildflower gets its name from its unique flower, which resembles a church pulpit. Within, an upright figure (the plant’s spadix) perches like a miniature preacher (Jack).

Other common names for the plant are bog onion, American wake-robin, wild turnip and brown dragon.

According to the “Peterson Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs,” this interesting species has historically been used to treat a variety of ailments, ranging from colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis and headaches to rheumatism, boils, abscesses and ringworm. Proper preparation, such as cooking or drying, is required for any such application.

Keep in mind that the plant’s leaves and fruits contain calcium oxalate; that can be very irritating to the skin. If handling, be sure to wear gloves. The needle-like calcium oxalate crystals are also present in the plant’s underground tuber and will cause a strong burning sensation if eaten raw. Ingesting the fresh root can cause poisoning and possibly death.

Abloom in the Upper Delaware River region now, Jack-in-the-pulpit is recognizable for its unusual flower, a green- or sometimes maroon-striped spathe (pulpit), hooded over a finger-like spadix (Jack), which bears tiny flowers at the base. The plant’s broad leaves appear in groups of three. When the bright red berries ripen in late summer or fall, they provide a good food resource for various birds and rodents.
Abloom in the Upper Delaware River region now, Jack-in-the-pulpit is recognizable for its unusual flower, a green- or sometimes maroon-striped spathe …
The distinctive flower of Jack-in-the-pulpit.
The distinctive flower of Jack-in-the-pulpit.

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