Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Most readers have probably heard the expression, "leaves of three, let it be," which warns of the itchy rash that usually results from touching poison ivy. This is a reasonable precaution to take if you are unsure of a plant's identity, especially since reactions to poison ivy exposure can be extremely unpleasant. However, not all three-leaved plants are necessarily toxic. Some are worth looking at more closely.

One such plant is the Jack-in-the-pulpit, which blooms for a short time in mid-spring. The plant sprouts one or two stalks, each with three leaflets. These may be large or small; the plant shown above was particularly large. It may sprout an additional stalk that bears the flower. The flower, which gives the plant its name, is a bit unusual in its structure. Instead of petals, the jack-in-the-pulpit has a spathe that curves up and over to protect the inner parts of the flower. This forms the "pulpit." Instead of stamens and a pistil, it has a spadix that sits inside space protected by the spathe and bears the plant's reproductive organs. This is the "Jack."

The pulpit is usually green, but it may have striping or mottling. This one, from the plant shown at top, has gorgeous purple striping.

This pulpit, from a different plant, has dark and light green striping.

Jack-in-the-pulpits are blooming right in New Jersey, so look for these unique plants while they are still in flower. Look for them in wet woods or swampy areas. I photographed the plants shown in this post at Heathcote Meadows Preserve last Saturday.