Get to know the different types of jack-in-the-pulpit plants, how to grow and care for them, and how to differentiate them from its look-alikes and avoid its toxic substance.
Also known as the Indian turnip, American wake robin, brown dragon or wild turnip, jack in the pulpit is a species commonly found in moist, rich, deciduous flood plains and woods where it can thrive under the shade. With the scientific name of Arisaema triphyllum, a jack-in-the-pulpit plant (also written as jack in the pulpit) is a long-lived perennial (it can live longer than 25 years!) that spreads and colonizes as time goes on with the help of an acidic corm. This plant is native to eastern North America. It is found in the moist thickets and woodlands from Nova Scotia to the west of Minnesota all the way to southern Florida and Texas.
This perennial is a member of the Arum family (scientific name: Araceae) that has 27 genera and six other species just in the genus Arisaema. The different species of this genus possess the same characteristics. Even the structure of the exotic flowers is quite similar. The flowers of this flower blossom from March all the way through to June, but the blossoming highly depends on the geographical location. A jack-in-the-pulpit plant is highly pollinated by small flies.
Most commonly, the flowers of this plant are an unusual shade of green and maroon with striped spathe around the fleshy, burgundy-colored spadix. This also has small, embedded flowers in it. It also features vibrant red-colored berries that have the same consistency as ripe tomatoes. Moreover, these attractive berries are food for birds, rodents, thrushes, and other wildlife. Every berry has 1 to 5 seeds and it fully ripens during the fall time. The flowers of the jack in the pulpit are quite attractive and each flower is parted into three leaves.
The leaves and fruits of the jack-in-the-pulpit contain calcium oxalate that is known to cause skin irritations. This is why it is important for individuals to wear gloves when they are collecting or cleaning the red berries. The seeds of the berries need thorough cleaning as well. The reason is that if they are not, they are recalcitrant and they lose their viability.
The jack in the pulpit plant is quite unique and it possesses qualities like no other. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the different kinds of jack-in-the-pulpit plants along with a few other facts related to this perennial.
Table of Contents
- Classification of Jack in the Pulpit
- Types of Jack in the Pulpit
- Arisaema triphyllum (Three-leaf Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
- Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’ (Black Jack Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
- Arisaema triphyllum ‘Starburst’ (Starburst Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
- Arisaema quinatum (Five-leaf Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
- Arisaema dracontium (Green Dragon Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
- Arisaema saxatile
- Arisaema Yunnanese
- Arisaema thunbergii subsp. Urashima (Japanese Cobra Lily)
- Arisaema serratum
- Arisaema tortuosum
- Arisaema dracontium
- Jack in the Pulpit Planting Zones, Sun & Soil Requirements, and Care
- Look-alikes and Warnings
Arisaema triphyllum is considered as being a single species that has three subspecies within it. It consists of two diploids (A. t. pusillum and A. t. stewardsonii) and tetraploid (A. t. triphyllum). The tetraploid is a hybrid of the two diploids. Even though they are found in the wild, they are isolated. The reason why they are commonly considered a subspecies is that it can be quite difficult to distinguish them from each other, based on their herbarium specimens.
Within the genus Arisaema, the A. triphyllum is categorized in the Pedatisecta section and it is a close member of Asian species. This species is not close to its American relative species.
Types of Jack in the Pulpit
The three-leaf jack-in-the-pulpit is one of the most prevalent species found in the United States. Even though it is spread across the nation, it is found in seasonally and moist flooded woodlands. The stalks of this plant as 1 to 2 feet tall and they have two trifoliate leaves growing on it. This plant successfully flourishes in hardiness zone 3 to 9.
The BlackJack jack-in-the-pulpit was discovered by a native plant guru named Bob McCartney. This jack in the pulpit species has glossy black foliage with a few, scattered green veins. In central Florida (where it is native), it blooms during mid-May and this time is considered quite early compared to the other plants. This jack in the pulpit species has the ability to spread underground as well. This plant successfully flourishes in hardiness zone 6 to 9.
Arisaema triphyllum ‘Starburst’ (Starburst Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
The Starburst jack in the pulpit is a plant native to Virginia. The man that discovered it is Paul James. The Starburst jack in the pulpit is a fast-growing, vigorous plant that blossoms during the springtime. Each plant has trifoliate leaves with white silver veins. This tree has the ability to grow 22 inches. This plant successfully flourishes in hardiness zone 5 to 8, at least.
Arisaema quinatum (Five-leaf Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
The Five-leaf jack in the pulpit is a lesser-known species native to the eastern US. This Arisaema species is commonly found growing amongst the Arisaema triphyllum. As the name suggests, the Five-leaf jack-in-the-pulpit has 5 leaflets. However, there are a few taxonomists that have grouped this species with other jack in the pulpit species that only have three leaflets. The major difference is that the seed of this species has the ability to produce 5 leaflet plants.
This is another species that is found growing alongside the Arisaema triphyllum. But, this species is easy to distinguish because it has multi-leaflets horseshow shapes leaves. This jack-in-the-pulpit species is quite small compared to the others. In some areas of the United States it grows 15 inches in height, whereas in others, it reaches 3 to 4 feet.
The Arisaema saxatile is a jack in the pulpit plant that is native to China. It blooms in late May. It has two leaves with 5 to 7 leaflets on top of a 15-inch pseudostem. As soon as June arrives, the pseudostem gets topped off with beautiful, small white pitcher from where 6 to 9 inch long, dark green tongue like leaf parts hang. This jack in the pulpit species has a refreshing lemon smell, which is quite nice as the other members of the family are known to have bad odors.
Time and time again, the Arisaema saxatile is known to being a wonderful garden performer. This plant successfully grows in hardiness level 6 to 8.
The Arisaema Yunnanese is another popular species of the jack-in-the-pulpit. This species is native to Yunnan, China, hence its name. The Arisaema Yunnanese grows 18 inches tall. The green pseudostem of this jack in the pulpit species features beautiful trifoliate, rich green colored leaves. It is topped off with white and green striped spathe alone with a thin green spadix. This species is long-lived, easy to grow, and an offsetting species.
Arisaema thunbergii subsp. Urashima (Japanese Cobra Lily)
As the name suggests, the Japanese Cobra Lilly is native to Japan. The Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urashima (Japanese Cobra Lily) is a tuberous and showy perennial that has a curious, long, maroon/burgundy-hooded spathe with a cylindrical enclosing along with a maroon spadix. This spadix is long and it has a whip-like tail that reaches the height of 18 inches.
The flowers commonly bloom during the late spring to early summertime. The blossoming of the exotic-looking flowers starts at the ground and emerges to the base of the leaf stem. It is topped off by large horizontal dark green leaves that are divided into 11 to 15 lance shapes. The fertilized flowers have the ability to produce red berries that mature during the summertime after the color of the leaves fades.
However, it is extremely important to know that all parts of this plant are poisonous as they contain calcium oxalate. On the other side, the Cobra Lilly is a ravishing plant in woodland gardens. It is quite easy to grow and it does not require much care.
The Cobra Lilly grows 1 to 2 feet in height and 30 to 60 cm in width. This perennial can be easily grown in hummus-rich, fertile, and medium to wet soils. It requires either partial shade or complete shade. It thrives when it is left isolated in shady woodlands or in wild gardens as it is considered as a wildflower plant.
The Arisaema serratum is another jack-in-the-pulpit species that is commonly found in Korea, China, and Japan. It is easy to grow and widespread species around these nations. There are many plants in the Arisaema serratum group which often confuses taxonomists as they do not fully understand what constituents contribute into making this a true species. There are a few taxonomists that have divided the Arisaema serratum species into different groups such as Arisaema mayebarae, Arisaema peninsulae, and Arisaema takadae.
The pseudostems of this species are 12 to 36 inches tall. The pseudostem possesses a subtle purple shade and it features two leaves (each leaf has 7 to 17 leaflets). As the late April time approaches, the color of the pseudostem goes from a subtle purple shade to a little darker. This is one that sets this species of jack in the pulpit apart. To make sure this species lives long, it is extremely crucial to plant it in well drained soils.
Also known as the whipcord cobra lily, the Arisaema tortuosum is another jack-in-the-pulpit species. What sets this one apart is its green or purple whip-like spadix that comes out the mouth of its exotic flowers. The spadix is often 30 cm long. This species possesses flowers that are either bisexual or male. The Arisaema tortuosum produces berries as well. At first, these berries are small and green, but as they mature and ripen; they turn into a bright red shade. Normally, this species grows and thrives in large clumps and each plant can easily grow up to 2 meters tall.
The Arisaema tortuosum is a species native to Western China, Myanmar, India, and the Himalayas. It is found in alpine meadows, rhododendron forests, and scrubs.
The Arisaema dracontium (the common name of this species would be a green dragon or dragon-root) is another perennial in the Arisaema family. This jack in the pulpit species is native to North America, starting from Quebec to Minnesota, Texas, and Florida; sometimes, it can be found in areas of northeastern Mexico. Canada has named the Arisaema dracontium as a vulnerable species. In these places, it is found growing in moist, damp forests and woods. Each of the plants has the ability to grow from 7.9 to 19.7 inches tall when it is blooming and after flowering, it reaches 39 inches.
Most of the times, each Arisaema dracontium produces a single leaf that has long petioles. Each leaf has 7 to 13 leaflets with the largest one being in the middle while the smaller leaflets are surrounding it. The leaflets create a horizontal surface. When the flowering season approaches during the springtime, the plant produces one thin green colored spathe that is 3 to 6 centimeters long. The whip or tail-like spadix grows at the top of the spathe. When the flowering season is completely over, the plant produces 150 green berries that create a club-shaped column. As the summertime passes, the green berries turn into a vibrant orange-red color. Each berry can produce 1 to 3 seeds.
It is crucial to growing this species in either partial shade or in full shade with adequate amounts of fertilization and watering. This species containing wildflowers do not need well-drained soils (depends on the different types of jack-in-the-pulpit), which is why they can do well in boggy soils. What you can do is mimic the native habitat of the species, which would be creating an acidic, damp area.
If you want to plant your own jack in the pulpit, what you have to do is dig a 6-inch hole on the ground and put the corm in it. As the springtime approaches, the plants peek through the soil and that is when you will need to shovel at least 2 inches of the mulch around it to conserve the moisture. Slugs and other pests like feeding on this wild plant, which is why you will need to be extra caring with this plant.
Most of the times, jack in the pulpit plants are confused with poison ivy plants during the different stages of its maturation. The biggest reason would be the three-part leaves. The structure of the leaf is also very close to the appearance of a trillium, which has the same native habitat as the jack-in-the-pulpit.
A jack in the pulpit plant would be considered poisonous because the corms that come out of it are considered toxic if they are consumed raw. Back in the day, Native Americans would cook corms after soaking and drying them for culinary and medicinal uses. Now, it is suggested that only experts or professionals should try this.
These are the different types of jack in the pulpit with a few additional facts about it. This plant requires partial shade with somewhat acidic soil. To make sure the plant grows beyond its fullest potential, what you can do is use humus-rich soil that will make sure the plant is thriving. If the red berries of the plant as ingested make sure you see a doctor as they can be poisonous. Now that you have gained a good understanding of this exotic species, get your own!
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