By: Amy Grant
Jack-in-the-pulpit is an unusual perennial notable not only for its unique flower, but for its extraordinary jack-in-the-pulpit propagation. How does jack-in-the-pulpit reproduce? Turns out there are two methods for propagating this flower; this distinctive bloom reproduces both vegetatively and sexually. Read on to learn how to propagate jack-in-the-pulpit.
As mentioned, jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) reproduces both vegetatively and sexually. During vegetative propagation cormlets, lateral buds, rise from the parent corm to form new plants.
During sexual propagation, pollen is transferred from male blooms to female flowers by pollinators via a method called sexual hermaphroditism. This means that any plant may be male, female, or both. When growing conditions are prime, plants tend to produce female blooms. This is because females take more energy since they will form brilliant red berries or seeds for propagating future jack-in-the-pulpit plants.
Come spring, a single shoot emerges from the soil with two sets of leaves and a solitary flower bud. Each leaf is made up of three smaller leaflets. When the bloom opens, a leaf-like hood called a spathe appears. This is the ‘pulpit.’ Inside the folded over spathe is a rounded column, ‘Jack’ or spadix.
Both male and female blooms are found on the spadix. Once the blossom is pollinated, the spathe shrivels up revealing a cluster of green berries which grow in size and ripen to a brilliant crimson color.
The green berries shift from orange to red as they mature in late summer. By early September, they should be bright red and a bit soft. Now is the time for propagating jack-in-the-pulpit.
Using scissors, snip the berry cluster from the plant. Be sure to wear gloves as the sap from the plant irritates some people’s skin. Inside each berry are four to six seeds. Gently squeeze the seeds from the berry. The seeds can be directly sown or started inside.
Outside, plant seeds half an inch (1 cm.) deep in a moist, shaded area. Water the seeds in and cover with an inch (2.5 cm.) of leaf mulch. The seeds will stratify over the coming cold months.
To propagate indoors, stratify the seeds for 60-75 days. Place them in sphagnum peat moss or sand and store them in the refrigerator for two to two and a half months in plastic bags or containers. Once the seeds have stratified, plant them ½ inches (1 cm.) deep in a soilless potting medium and keep moist. Plants should germinate in about two weeks.
Many growers continue to grow indoor jack-in-the-pulpit propagations inside for up to two years before transplanting outside.
This article was last updated on
This family include plants that show themselves very early in spring – as a matter of fact it will be one of the first plants to rise in your garden, and will bring a touch of spring to your garden far sooner than waiting for many of your other plants.
The plant is a perennial and will grow about three feet high, blooming in April and May. Its flowers are an exquisite shade of green, marked with darker designs.
The Jack in the Pulpit plant consists of just three leaves or so, each with a long stalk, while the flower and its protective sheath grow on another stalk.
This flashy stalk is called a spadix and can bear many tiny flowers. The name of this plant comes from the fact that the leafy sheath not only forms a tube around the flowers, but also a hood over them, just like a pulpit. This plant belongs by classification in the Arums, the same family, for example, as Sweet Flag. You will find the flowers appearing with the leaves on the trees, which is just about right as it brings your garden to life. There are three main varieties of this plant, but technically they are all the same species.
On of the most attractive elements about this flower is its rare and distinctive shape, which, though well known, is still extremely original.
Scientific name: Arisaema triphyllum
Common name: Jack-in-the–Pulpit
(Information in this Species Page was compiled by Melissa “Moe” Ortz in Biology 220W, Spring 2002, at Penn State New Kensington)
Jack-in-the–Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) has many common names: arum, Indian turnip, wild turnip (and, “swamp,” “marsh,” “meadow,” and “dragon” turnip, too!), bog onion, brown dragon, devil’s ear, and priest’s pintle. Examining these names gives important insights into both the morphology and the ecology of
the plant: it has a substantial, bulb-like root (called the “corm”) which can be eaten or used in a variety of other ways, it grows in moist habitats, and its flower is unusually and distinctively shaped and colored.
Range and Habitat
Jack-in-the-Pulpit is a long-lived perennial found in the moist, deciduous forests throughout eastern North America. Its range extends from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico and westward to Minnesota and Louisiana. It prefers soils that are neutral to acid in pH, rich in humus and nutrients, and moist but well aerated (i.e well drained). It is most often found in forests with a diverse under-story plant community which probably reflects the preference of many other plants species for these robust, optimal site conditions. There are four described sub-species that have generalized, overlapping distributions in the northern, southern and western sections of this broad continental range.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit’s flowering form consists of a three inch long, columnar structure called the spadix on which the many, tiny, male and female flowers are located. The spadix is encased by a tubular, leaf-like structure called the spathe whose open top is partially covered by a “hood” or flap of leafy tissue. The spathe can be tinted either red or purple and often has brown or white longitudinal stripes and furrows. The hood of the spathe is usually yellow-green but may be very pale in plants growing in higher levels of sunlight. The leaves of the plant are, as the species name defines, found in groups of three leaflets that rise over the top of the spathe. Both the leaflets and the flower arise from a single stalk from the subterranean corm. This stalk, then, branches to form the spathe and the slightly longer leaf stalk. The sub-species of Jack-in-the-Pulpit vary in their spathe and spadix morphologies and colorations and in the colorations of their leaflets.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit reproduces both vegetatively and sexually. In vegetative propagation lateral buds called “cormlets” arise from the parental corm to form new plants. In sexual reproduction pollen from male flowers is transferred to female flowers by a variety of pollinating insects (including collembola, and several species of flies and thrips). The encasing spathe, of course, prevents any wind dispersal of pollen. Male flowers are found in the upper sections of the spadix and female flowers in the lower. In a given plant either male or female flowers predominate. A phenomenon called sequential hermaphroditism (discussed below) coupled with the temporal asynchrony of male and female flower maturation act to inhibit or prevent self-fertilization. In male flowers, a fine dusting of pink pollen accumulates at the bottom of the volume of the spathe.
After pollination, the spathe dies back revealing a cluster of green, berry-like fruit attached to the stalk of the spadix. These fruit turn bright red as they ripen on into the autumn. Each fruit contains a maximum of six ovules, but, on average, only one or two seeds. Not all plants produce seeded fruit. Less than half of the plants in one study were actually found to have fruit that contained seeds and of these seeded fruit over one-third were shriveled and unviable. Speculative explanations for this high level of reproductive failure include low numbers of pollinating insects, pollen-ovum incompatibility, and site nutrient limitations.
Life Cycle and Sequential Hermaphroditism
Jack-in-the-Pulpit displays a distinctive cycle of growth and development in which not only the age of the plant but also the conditions and limitations of its environment determine its relative gender and also its potential fertility. A seedling growing either from a fertilized seed or from a vegetative cormlet will spend from four to six years in a pre-reproductive, vegetative form. As sufficient size is reached after these immature, growth years, the first flowers produced will be male, pollen producing flowers. As the plant continues to grow, though, through subsequent years the larger and larger spadix will begin to produce female flowers and thus then be able to produce seeds and fruit. Increases in nutrient availability or habitat quality will accelerate the transition of male plants into female plants. Decreases, though, in nutrients or habitat quality, or impacting environmental stresses, will cause female plants to revert back to their earlier male form or even back into their pre-flowering, vegetative state. This extremely plastic flowering cycle (called sequential hermaphroditism) ensures that only plants of sufficient size and physiological and genetic quality are capable of reproduction. It also prevents energetically expensive reproduction during times of nutrient deprivation or environmental distress.
The corm of the plant is perennial and very long lived. After a period of winter dormancy (which is broken by a month of at least four degrees C), it extends a new shoot which branches to form spathe and leaflets in the spring and early summer.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit contains toxic levels of oxalic acid and asparagines within its tissues. The roots, in particular, have very high levels of these chemicals. The berries, if ingested, cause a burning sensation in the mouth and throat due to physical abrasions in the mucous membranes caused by crystals of calcium oxalate. In spite of these toxins, though, deer potentially do heavily browse Jack-in-the-Pulpit causing extensive damage and destruction. Also, a fungal pathogen (Uromyces aritriphylli) frequently infects the plant causing damage to the corm, the leaflets, and the spathe. An infected plant is easily identified by the presence of bright yellow, spore producing, surface lesions. Impacts of this fungus include reduced growth of the plant and potential flower stage regression, reduced vegetative propagation, and inhibited pollination due to deformations in the spathe and its covering hood. In a given population of Jack-in-the-Pulpit a fourth of the individuals are infected by this fungus. Of the infected female plants, the vast majority are no longer able to produce seeds.
Human use and ingestion of Jack-in-the-Pulpit either takes advantage of the potential medicinal applications of the plant’s toxins (such as use as skin ointments, poultices, or tonics) or follows steps by which these toxins are removed from the plant tissues (drying, roasting, leaching etc). The root, in particular, can be peeled, ground, dried and roasted to make a bread or cereal that has a chocolate-like flavor. The root can also be thinly sliced into chips that are then roasted into edible, chocolate flavored wafers.
This page was last updated on July 2, 2014
Thank you for visiting Penn State New Kensington.
Make more of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, a beautiful native plant, by following these propagating tips.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit with flower. All photos by Patrick Voyle
Many smart gardeners recognize Jack-in-the-Pulpit or Arisaema triphyllum as an unusual and attractive native plant. Some have also wondered if they could help to create more of these woodland cuties in their own shaded gardens. Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators and Master Gardener hotlines are occasionally asked how these plants are propagated. In the wild, not all the seeds have the opportunity. With a little help from you, instead of seeing one or two new Jacks pop up in the spring, there may be more than a dozen.
The first thing to do is determine if your garden can support and nurture Jack-in-the-Pulpit. They grow best in rich soil that is damp in woodlands, boggy areas and stream banks. Enriching shaded soil with additional compost and leaf mold and watering can often create the habitat required for happy Jacks.
In the spring, a solitary shoot comes from the ground and on a mature plant, two sets of leaves and a solitary flower bud emerge. Each leaf is made up of three leaflets. The flower is not like any other many gardeners have encountered. When the bud scales on the flower open, a leaf-like hood called a splathe forms the pulpit portion. It gently folds over the central cylinder of the flower. Inside the column is the spadix that stands like a solitary column with a rounded top. That’s “Jack,” which is classified as a spadix. The flower splathe can range from pale green to dark green and some have maroon and greenish stripes. The entire plant usually grows from 1-3 feet tall. The biggies happen because the plant is older and the soil is particularly damp and rich.
Both male and female flowers are found on the spadix. After the flower is pollinated and the splathe withers, a small, cylindrical cluster of green berries becomes obvious. As the growing season moves along, the berries grow in size. The green berries become orange in August or early September and continue to ripen to a brilliant red. The berries will be below one of the leaves. Leaves may deteriorate, but the berry cluster is an eye-catcher. This is the time to propagate your plant. Berries should be bright red and a bit soft.
Berry cluster ready for harvesting.
During this time, use scissors or small pruning shears to cut the berry cluster free from the plant. The juice can be extremely irritating to many people’s skin, so wear moisture-proof gloves. The berries are also poisonous and cause intense irritation and burning if put into the mouth. Moral of this gardening tale: don’t attempt to eat your garden project.
Each berry could contain anywhere from one to five white seeds. The simplest method is to lightly rake or scratch up an area close to the parent plant or one with suitable planting conditions. Roll the berries gently until the seeds are visible and lightly deposit the seeds on the soil surface. Then, water gently to settle a small layer of soil over the seeds. Use a light coating of leaf mulch over the area, about 1 inch deep. Make sure soil is damp until the ground freezes. Now Mother Nature will take care of a season of cold stratification so the seeds can grow.
If you are bringing seeds indoors to grow, they will not grow unless they are cold-stratified. That means clean seeds are mixed into damp, whole-fiber sphagnum moss in a plastic bag that is sealed and refrigerated for at least 60 days. Plant in a container of soilless potting medium with seeds buried no deeper than 0.25 inches. Keep damp and germination will take place in about two weeks if the area is not too cold. Most growers keep them indoors for two years before moving the seedlings outdoors.
When examining the two methods of propagation, it is Mother versus bother. Mom wins for most smart gardeners.
This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit https://extension.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit https://extension.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit https://extension.msu.edu/experts, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).
Did you find this article useful?
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) seeds can be sown directly outdoors or started indoors. Harvest the cluster of berries as soon as they turn red in late summer. Each berry usually contains 4 to 6 seeds. Remove the seeds by gently squeezing them from the berries. Seeds can be planted immediately outdoors. Plant seeds ½ inch deep in a moist, shaded location.
Jack-in-the-pulpit seeds can also be started indoors. Before sowing the seeds indoors, the seeds must be stratified (exposed to cool, moist conditions) for 60 to 75 days. Jack-in-the-pulpit seeds can be stratified by placing them in moist sphagnum peat moss or fine sand and then storing them in the refrigerator for 2 to 2½ months. Suitable storage containers include small plastic bags and food storage containers. After the seeds have been stratified, remove the seeds from the sphagnum peat moss or sand. Plant seeds ½ inch deep in a commercial potting mix. In spring, plant the seedlings outdoors.
Jack-in-the-pulpit berry cluster. www.canr.msu.edu/news/ Photo by Patrick Voyle.