Continuing what seems to be a theme of weedy plants rather than spring delicacies (though the scilla yesterday was hardly a weed) today I am highlighting Arum italicum subsp. marmoratum. This plant from Europe, North Africa and into Asia, is closely related to the native Arum maculatum, which I have posted about before, at length, but differs primarily, as far as gardeners are concerned, by the beautifully striped leaves, the main veins picked out in white against the rich green leaf blades.
As a garden plant it has a lot going for it. The foliage appears in autumn and increases in beauty throughout winter and into spring and although frosts reduce it to a dark green dollop that looks like steamed spinach, as it thaws it picks itself up again and looks bright as a button. In late spring, as the foliage is reaching a crescendo, pale green to yellow spathes poke up through the leaves and, though they are hardly spectacular, they are interesting and that is good enough for me. A month later the whole thing starts to wither and die back, apart from the flower stem which, if the midges have been doing as they should, develops into a stout stem of shiny green berries which ripen in autumn, to bright scarlet.
Of course these berries are poisonous, largely because of the calcium oxylate crystals common to the family, but birds love them, as do snails it seems, and this is where the trouble starts. Because although a large, mature clump looks majestic in winter, birds will spread this plant far and wide.
The seedlings, and young plants, do not show the white veins of the mature plants so you have to have faith for a season or two.
It is generally very easy to grow and will thrive in sun or shade. It is perhaps, most useful in shady places and it looks good with spring bulbs and hellebores but it must be kept under control or it will swamp lesser plants. For this reason it is probably best under deciduous shrubs rather than allowing it to mingle with delicate creatures. Ferns and hostas, lilies and colchicums are a few other ideas.
Although it will easily spread if birds drop the seeds about, an individual tuber will not run around even though it will increase in size and put up offsets. Even after years you will just have a bigger clump. But mess around and dig it up and you may inadvertently split off pieces that may spread it. I don’t want to put anyone off this handsome and hardy plant but a mild warning is being honest. If you are the sort of person that sweeps up your dropped fuchsia flowers every day then an answer would be to snap off the flowers as they appear – then there are no seeds.
And, like the vincas and celandines mentioned last week which will also divide gardeners into lovers and loathers, once you get to know this plant you will soon discover that there are lots of different cultivars that you could collect, each with their own special characters.