Wildflower: Jack in the pulpit
Jack in the pulpit (arisaema triphyllum) might just be my favourite forest wildflower.
Written and photographed by: Andrew S. Walker
Welcome back, Jack!
As one of the most unique wildflowers in the forest, the jack in the pulpit is always a pleasant discovery on early-season hikes through the woods.
My introduction to the peculiar plant came from my grandmother, who had a single jack in the pulpit located in a shaded corner of her beautiful flower garden. Visiting her house to see “jack” when he emerged in the spring every year was always a big event for our family.
The plant has a definitive stalk that rises about two feet off the forest floor with a single spathe that curls over at the top to resemble a hood. This is referred to as the “pulpit” and it covers the spadix, also known as “jack”.
A jack in the pulpit normally has three leaves, hence the name triphyllum.
The spathe often sports purple and green stripes, and the spadix varies in colour from red to light green, or white.
Jack in the pulpits are commonly found in wooded areas that offer significant shade and moist soil.
According to the USDA’s jack in the pulpit range map this wildflower has a range that includes the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island in Canada.
In the United States, jack in the pulpits are present in most states in the eastern half of the country.
The plant is a perennial, and normally makes its appearance in April, May, or June. Seeds develop through the summer, ranging from green to dark red, depending when you see them.
Can you eat a jack in the pulpit?
First Nations communities historically collected the underground part of the plant for food, drying out the “corm” for as much as six months to reduce the mild toxicity.
Care must be taken not to eat any of the plant raw, as it can cause a burning irritation in the mouth and throat.
I think I’ll simply take a few photos each year and leave jack alone.
If you happen to be a big fan of wildflowers, this popular guide makes a great addition to the cottage or cabin library.