Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-pulpit, Bog onion, Brown dragon, Indian turnip, American wake robin, or Wild turnip) is a herbaceousperennial plant growing from a corm. It is a highly variable species typically growing from 30 to 65 cm in height with three parted leaves and flowers contained in a spadix that is covered by a hood. It is native to eastern North America, occurring in moist woodlands and thickets from Nova Scotia west to Minnesota, and south to southern Florida.
Okay, so that’s probably more than you need to know right now about this plant but let me tell you why this plant is special to me. When we moved to Fort Pelham Farm in 1967 there was what remained of the front porch still attached to the house. It was a cement topped stone slab of sorts that went the entire length of the front of the house. There were stairs (crumbling) on each end and in the center in front of the door – all about the symmetry here. Along the road were 4 huge sugar maple trees. I’m assuming they had been planted around the time the house was built. This was wonderful in the summer because it completely shaded the front of the house which faces west. When houses were built back in the day they were oriented to the sun in such a way that in the winter passive solar helped heat the house at well as giving maximum light. The trees were planted to keep the house cooler in the summer. The site wasn’t chosen for where the road was but the road went by the house. Today’s building rarely takes orientation into consideration because they are always building planned “communities” around streets and cul-de-sacs.
Back to the Jacks. Spring, summer and fall the front of the house was always moist and very shady. The plantings along what remained of the porch were overgrown and filled in with years of mulched leaves. From the first spring that we were here my mother cleaned out the beds and discovered the jack in the pulpits. She would always bend over, lift the hood of the plant and exclaim “There’s Jack!” I don’t remember a spring she didn’t do that – and she especially like showing it to my girls when they were little. It gave the plant just a little more magic.
Years later, long after my mother was gone, my father decided to remove what remained of that porch during one summer. The trees had all fallen, been cut up and taken away and the sun was shining full force on the front of the house. I dug up the corms of the jacks and moved them to the north corner of the house where the shed meets the ell. I was surprised at what little there is to them once the leaves have died back. I was reluctant to do it but knew if I didn’t try to move them they would be lost. Then I waited.
It’s a long wait from July until the following May. The spot where I planted them has snow on it that is the absolute last to melt. Sure enough they popped out of the ground like that have every other year for who knows how long. I was so happy to see them.
They are the protected species on my property, I watch them, make sure any repairs being done or painting doesn’t disturb them. And every spring like this one I go out, lift up their hoods and think “There’s Jack!”