Written By Karl VonBerg.

Posted on May 1st, 2018.

Share it!

Jack-in-the-pulpit gets its name from the plant’s flower, which resembles a preacher wrapped around by the pulpit. You can find it in rich, moist woods in the spring starting in May to early June.

Have you seen this strange plant in the woods lately? It has an equally strange name: jack-in-the-pulpit.

image1

Jack-in-the-pulpit gets its name from the plant’s flower, which resembles a preacher wrapped around by the pulpit (check out the close-up photos below). You can find it in rich, moist woods in the spring starting in May to early June depending on how soon your woods warms up. It grows 1 – 2 feet in height with three-parted leaves. The “pulpit” can be greenish yellow or, like the one I found for this blog, green with purple or brownish stripes.

image2 text image3

Now Reverend Jack isn’t a single flower. He’s actually a combination of lots of tiny flowers (the technical term for this is a “spadix”). The protective pulpit around him is called a “spathe.” It takes 4 years for the plant to grow a spadix and spathe combo. Jack’s going to seminary, maybe?

At first the spadix produces mostly male flowers. As the plant ages, it will start to grow female flowers.

Why does this plant have such a complicated shape? It has to do with how it’s pollinated. It relies not on bees or butterflies but a tiny gnat. The flower gives off a subtle, fungus-like odor, which attracts the gnat. If the plant has male flowers, the gnat can find its way out through a small opening in the base of the pulpit after the gnat has loaded up with pollen. But if it is a plant with female flowers, there is no opening at the base for the gnat to escape out of. The gnat pollinates the female flowers with the pollen it has gathered from plants with male flowers, and then often can’t get out and dies in the plant. Not very preacher-like, if you ask me.

This shade-loving plant can be a nice addition to a shady garden spot. If you are interested in growing it, don’t collect plants from the wild. You can buy them from a nursery that has native plants. Check out this native plant activity on MyWoodlot for resources on native gardening, including some searchable nursery databases.


Share it!