Plant profile: Jack in the Pulpit

Earlier this year in March, these impressive spikes appeared under the crab apple tree. They belong to a Jack in the pulpit from East Asia (Arisaema ringens).


They later developed into large tripartite leaves:


And now, exotic flowers emerged:



This Jack in the pulpit is also called cobra lily. Looking at this photo, can you see why?

The cobra lily belongs to the Arum family of plants, which also includes the world’s largest flower, the titan arum  (Amorphophallus titanum).

Arum flowers are elaborate insect traps. They are actually collections of many little male and female flowers that are surrounded by a large leaf, called spathe. Our cobra lily produces a scent that is irresistible to flies. Attracted flies crawl deep into the spathe and get trapped by stiff hairs near the entrance that block their way back out. At this stage, the female flowers inside the spathe are ready to be pollinated. A few days later, male flowers mature and shower the entrapped flies with pollen. Now, the stiff hairs wither and the pollen-dusted flies can escape. Some will get fooled again and enter another flower.

If all goes well, bright red berries will develop in fall.

Who wants to see great detail pictures of Arum flowers should check out this beautiful website from England.

Another Jack in the pulpit is also blooming in our garden, just not quite as spectacularly. Its flower ends in a long whip-like tip. I don’t know the name of this species, but I believe that it also belongs to the genus Arisaema. 


One last and important thing about Arum family plants: They are all poisonous to people. This is true for the entire plant from leaves over the roots to the berries. Therefore, beware of the cobra lily!