At my back porch, I have a wonderful cluster of berries, a color that would be perfect for a Christmas display — a true red. These are the berries of a Jack-In-The-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum, a plant that is native to the moist woods of eastern North America. The plant gets its name from the odd flower that emerges in the spring.
The “flower” consists of a flaplike spathe which shelters the little fellow, Jack, who is sitting in the pulpit. Jack actually is covered with the real flowers of the plant — both male and female flowers. The flowers are pollinated by flies that are attracted to the plant by heat, that the plant produces much like skunk cabbage does, and by scent. The pollination results in the brilliant red berries, which each contain one to five seeds. New plants from these seeds need three or more years before they are able to produce a flower.
The color of the Jack-In-The-Pulpit flower varies from a pale yellow-green, to a rich emerald green, to green with dark purple or brown stripes. I find flowers of these various colors here on my mountain. They are all the same species.
All parts of a Jack-In-The-Pulpit contain calcium oxalate crystals which can cause irritation of the mouth and digestive system, and can affect breathing. On one site on the internet, I see a warning that this plant is not to be confused with poison ivy, since both plants have leaves made up of three leaflets. I find that amusing, since I doubt that anyone would want to eat poison ivy either! Deer don’t seem to have any problem with the calcium oxalate crystals. I have found that Jack-In-The-Pulpit is one of their favorite foods.