Beauty or beast? Arum italicum

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.







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4 Comments on “Beauty or beast? Arum italicum”

  1. sueturner31
    March 23, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

    I’m afraid it’s the bane of my garden. Given to me along with the mouse tail plant many years ago by a well meaning old lady when I was very naive about the garden…but I do like the berries but keep an eye on them and try to catch them before they drop…seems I’m losing …..

    • thebikinggardener
      March 25, 2017 at 8:47 am #

      Ah – I am sorry to hear that it likes you a bit too much. I hope you manage to get the better of it

  2. painterwrite
    March 28, 2017 at 5:17 pm #

    Put me in the Hater pile for this one. It was in my garden when I moved in and I’m still trying to get rid of it.

    • thebikinggardener
      March 29, 2017 at 5:52 pm #

      Ah – I knew some people would be in the hater camp! I had a garden that was thick with it in parts but regular cultivation finally got the better of most of it – but turn your back and…

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