Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Many folks are familiar with Jack-in-the Pulpit (Arisaema tryphyllum), which gets its name from the spadix that looks like a preacher in a pulpit (see Erika's photo below).  The spadix contains tiny flowers. Fewer people know the bright red fruit, which appear in the fall as the foliage withers.  In the photo above, the fruit is changing from green to a ripe crimson.

If properly prepared, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit is edible.  But beware--the plant contains calcium oxalate, which can create burning sensations and rashes, irritate the digestive system and adversely affect breathing.  Native Americans used the plant to treat rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, snakebites, and to induce sterility. On the other hand, 17th century Europeans thought plants were put on this earth with signs for how humans should use them.  (The liver shape of liverworts was a sign that these plants could be used to cure liver ailments.)  The Jack-in-the-Pulpit's spadix was seen as a sure sign that the plant is an aphrodisiac.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wisely considers the Jack-in-the-Pulpit to be toxic.

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