Scape. - Terminated by a hood-like leaf or spathe. Leaves. - Generally two, each divided into three leaflets. Flowers. - Small and inconspicuous, packed about the lower part of the fleshy spike or spadix which is shielded by the spathe. Fruit. - A bright scarlet berry which is packed upon the spadix with many others.
These quaint little preachers, ensconced in their delicate pulpits, are well known to all who love the woods in early spring. Sometimes these "pulpits" are of a light green veined with a deeper tint; again they are stained with purple. This difference in color has been thought to indicate the sex of the flowers within - the males are said to be shielded by the green, the females by the purple, hoods. In the nearly allied cuckoo-pints of England, matters appear to be reversed : these plants are called "Lords and Ladies" by the children, the purple-tinged ones being the "Lords," the light green ones the "Ladies." The generic name, Arisoema, signifies bloody arum, and refers to the dark purple stains of the spathe. An old legend claims that these were received at the Crucifixion :
Beneath the cross it grew; And in the vase-like hollow of the leaf, Catching from that dread shower of agony A few mysterious drops, transmitted thus Unto the groves and hills their healing stains, A heritage, for storm or vernal shower Never to blow away.
Plate CIV. Com. Jack-In-The-Pulpit. - A. triphyllum.
The Indians were in the habit of boiling the bright scarlet berries which are so conspicuous in our autumn woods and devouring them with great relish; they also discovered that the bulb-like base or corm, as it is called, lost its acridity on cooking, and made nutritious food, winning for the plant its name of Indian turnip. One of its more local titles is memory-root, which it owes to a favorite school-boy trick of tempting others to bite into the blistering corm with results likely to create a memorable impression.
The English cuckoo-pint yielded a starch which was greatly valued in the time of Elizabethan ruffs, although it proved too blistering to the hands of the washerwomen to remain long in use. Owing to the profusion with which the plant grows in Ireland efforts have been made to utilize it as food in periods of scarcity. By grating the corm into water, and then pouring off the liquid and drying the sediment, it is said that a tasteless, but nutritious, powder can be procured.