Don’t ignore the double entendres: Arum maculatum


arum mac3

For most of my life my life I have been fascinated by the lowly, shade-loving Arum maculatum. It is a common wild flower in the UK and in Ireland and is unique in many ways. It is obvious by the appearance and botanical name that it is in the Araceae, the arum family, the most fascinating of all plant families. It is the family that includes the world’s biggest inflorescence (the titan arum) one of the world’s smallest flowering plants (duckweed – lemna) and a plethora of amazing houseplants from Swiss cheese plants to the the currently popular zamioculcas. It is a family that breaks most of the rules about what a monocotyledon should do and should look like. The one consistency is the flowers which always consist of a ring of tiny female flowers under a ring of tiny male flowers. These are held on a stem which terminates in a more or less swollen structure called a spadix which often gives off a (to us) unpleasant smell and also heat to attract pollinators. These are often gnats or flies. The whole thing is wrapped in a leaf-like spathe that can be attractive or simply structural.

In the case of Arum maculatum and many more the spathe opens at the top but is wrapped closely around the base and midges have to crawl down the spadix, past downward pointing hairs, to get to the flowers where they feed on the pollen. Here they are trapped overnight. At first the female flowers open and the midges bring pollen from another flower and run around the female flowers pollinating them. Then the male flowers shed the pollen and the midges get their reward and also get covered in pollen so that, when released as the hairs wither, they flit to the next ‘bloom’ and repeat the process.

Arum maculatum usually has spotted leaves but not always. The spathe is usually green but can be tinted with purple. The spadix can be yellow or purple and the two colours may have given rise to the common name of lords and ladies but most of the other names are much ruder and refer to what you must have noticed unless you have a very pure mind – that the spadix has a rather penile shape or at least attitude!

Perhaps the most common is cuckoo pint. Pint (as in mint not pint) is short for pintle or penis and the plant flowers when the cuckoo arrives. Cuckoos were always associated with fertility as were robins so it is also called wake robin. Jack in the pulpit and priest’s pintle have a similar origin. In Ireland it was known as Cluas an gahbhair (or goat’s ear) with reference to the shape of the spathe – the Irish are much less bawdy than the English! In fact so obsessed were the English with the shape of the flowers that it was thought that all girls had to do was touch the flowers and they would fall pregnant.

The plant is poisonous in all its parts but the danger lies in calcium oxalate crystals, common to many aroids. The tubers are large and starchy and have been used in the past as a source of starch for laundering (portland starch) and may have been used for food after processing.

arum mac2

The flowers are followed by red berries that are readily devoured by birds but which do pose a poisoning risk to inquisitive children though they are rarely fatal – be careful just the same.

arum mac

This is a truly unusual and fascinating plant with a long history in folklore. It is usually passed over as a garden plant in favour of the marbled foliage of Arum italicum.


, , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Philodendron bipinnatifidum flowering process | small house/BIG GARDEN - May 24, 2014

    […] Don’t ignore the double entendres: Arum maculatum ( […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Sweetgum and Pines

gardening in the North Carolina piedmont

Ravenscourt Gardens

Learning life's lessons in the garden!

RMW: the blog

Roslyn's photography, art, cats, exploring, writing, life


The Irish Garden Plant Society - Lovers of Irish plants and gardens


un altro blog sul giardinaggio...


four decades of organic vegetable gardening and barely a clue

The Long Garden Path

A walk round the Estate!

The Tropical Flowering Zone

Photographic Journals from the Tropics

Flowery Prose

Growing words about writing, gardening, and outdoors pursuits in Alberta, Canada.


Gardening on the edge of a cliff

Uprooted Magnolia

I am a freelance Photographer born and raised in the Southeast. I have uprooted my life in Macon Georgia for a new life as an unlikely cowgirl in love with a handsome cowboy in Wyoming. I hope you enjoy my photo journal on life, love, and the spirit of Wyoming.

Interesting Literature

A Library of Literary Interestingness

Garden Variety

A Gardening, Outdoor Lifestyle and Organic Food & Drink Blog

For the Love of Iris

Articles, Tips and Notes from Schreiner's Iris Gardens

One Bean Row

Words and pictures from an Irish garden by Jane Powers

Plant Heritage

The world's leading garden plant conservation charity


An English experience of gardening in Ireland - and back in the UK

%d bloggers like this: