Monday, May 22, 2006

You Don't Know Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Beth and I took a short walk through Voorhees Park in High Bridge, NJ on Saturday. A report of a Kentucky Warbler and a Connecticut Warbler there spurred my interest. Although we didn't find either bird, we did see and identify some new wildflowers. Among the Wild Geraniums and Rue-Anemones in the woods, we discovered a few blooming Jack-in-the-Pulpits - one of my favorite wildflowers. I decided to do a little research on this plant.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema Triphyllum), also known as Indian Turnip, grows in low, damp woods, swamps, and bogs and blooms during the late spring. The purplish, curved hood is considered the pulpit which hides the bulb (spadix) or 'Jack', hence the name. It is a stoutish perennial, 1 to 2.5 feet high, and usually bears two long-stalked, three-parted leaves that overshadow the flower. Its fruit ripens in late summer into a cluster of brilliant red berries.

American Indians used the plant medicinally for a wide variety of ailments. It was used to treat rheumatism and bronchitis but also to induce sterilty. Externally it was used as a treatment for snakebite. Although one of this plant's nicknames is Indian Turnip, it can only be used for food after boiling and thoroughly drying. Even then, its pungent flavor might make you reconsider. It was generally ground into meal before use. The fresh or partially dried root is too dangerous for use without medical supervision. It is intensely irritating to mucous tissue and contains calcium oxalate crystals (not good for you) in the fresh herb.

I'm always thrilled to see this flower, even though it can be fairly common. Among the other flowers we found were Mouse-ear Chickweed, Bulbous Buttercup, Wild Ginseng, and Curled Dock. We also spent a bit of time yanking Garlic Mustard! BTW, my Canon S2 actually took that picture above. I was impressed.

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