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Arum Maculatum

Updated on September 29, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

On a recent foray into the countryside I encountered the foliage of the arum lily Arum maculatum, an unusual plant that is one of the first to produce its foliage in response to the call of spring. This plant has acquired many country titles such as Lord's and Ladies, Adder's root, bobbins, Friar's cowl, wake robin and cuckoo pint.

It belongs to the family Araceae, which contain flowers in the form of a spadix. Collectively this group of plants are often referred to as aroids.

Although unusual these plants are often overlooked for the foliage blends well into the hedge bottom and shady woodland that they tenant. They delight to grow where the soil is of a damp type.

The arrow shaped foliage of  wild Arum
The arrow shaped foliage of wild Arum | Source

 The bright glossy leaves have the appearance of being wrinkled and have a very distinct arrow shaped head. In many cases the foliage has purple/black spots or blotches making them more easily identifiable. They appear has though mother nature has shaken the paint off one of her brushes which splashed upon the foliage. Other foliage have no blotches at all.


From the base of the plant rises a yellow green leaf-like bract known as a spathe.This unfurls to reveal a small cigar shaped purplish brown flower spike known as a spadix. {figure 1above} the flower spike emits an obnoxious scent which is designed to attract flies and other small insects to aid pollination. The spadix is composed of a ring of female flowers at the bottom and a ring of male flowers above. The spadix may be encountered from April into May. they are about 10-20cm long.

Just below the male flowers there is a ring of hairs which dust the pollen onto the insect which then unwittingly transfers the pollen to the female flowers allowing pollination to occur. {figure 3 above}. the flowers are succeeded by berries which are green at first turning orange before maturing to a red colour by autumn,{figure four above}.

However, it is the parts that one cannot see that are the most important as regards culinary and medicinal uses, as we shall discover later in the text. The roots of the Arum are tuber like rhizomes, somewhat resembling those of the potato, oblong about the size of a blackbirds egg. {see figure 2 above}. On the outside they are of a brownish colour while internally they are white. When fresh they are fleshy and exude a milky juice which tastes almost insipid at first but soon produces a burning prickly sensation.  This acridity is lost during the process of drying and by utilising heat. Once dried the substance that is left is starch. In its fresh state every part of this unusual plant is very POISONOUS.

The spathe and spadix can clearly be seen. It is easy to see why the spathe gives rise to the country title of Friars cowl.
The spathe and spadix can clearly be seen. It is easy to see why the spathe gives rise to the country title of Friars cowl. | Source

Arum Part of British History.

 The arum has played an important role in British history and has had many uses attributed to it. For example during Elizabethan times the roots were collected to produce a starch  for stiffening  ruffs a common garment worn by the privileged at that time. Thus the plant soon  became commonly known as starchwort. {wort being the old name for herb} This starch however, while being produced , caused blistering to the skin. A "soap " was also produced which had similar affects during production. All parts of the plant has irritant properties and may cause reaction on sensitive skin especially in its fresh state.

However, when baked the tubers are edible and because of the starch content somewhat nutritious. In times of hardship they were once regularly eaten after being prepared in that way.

The tubers have, in the past, been used medicinally. However, for home made preparations they are not recommended.

Fruit are bright red berries

The bright red berries remain on the spike long after the foliage has withered. The berries are tempting but poisonous.
The bright red berries remain on the spike long after the foliage has withered. The berries are tempting but poisonous. | Source

The berries may be tempting to children but they are very poisonous and there are records from times gone by of fatalities caused by their consumption. They contain substances which irritate the skin, mouth, tongue and throat. Although the symptoms are not immediate, in fact the taste is described as being almost insepid at first, the symptoms soon kick in. The throat will swell and breathing difficulties occur. If one has only eaten a small amount the symptoms will be a burning sensation in the mouth and throat followed by sickness and stomach upsets.

Providing one does not touch the plant or allow the juice to come into contact with the skin, the plant can be admired for its beauty alone. Many garden varieties of this family have been cultivated. One of the most popular and familiar is the Peace Lily which is grown as a house plant.



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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      sup g

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Seakay, thank you for your visit. I must cofess I have not heard of the Voo Doo lily which may well be a species of this family. Best wishes to you.

      Hi Darski, These palnts are usually found in damp situations but do not grow as a marginal plant as a rule. However, others of the family may well do so, Thank you for enjoying our walk my friend. Love and best wishes to you.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      These plants are awesome, do they usually grow around ponds and streams. The last one I have seen and I also remembe rthe brown tube commint out of these plants, but not sure if they only grow in your area. Fasinating hub...I really enjoyed our walk through nature..Peace & love darski rate up

    • Seakay profile image


      7 years ago from Florida

      Is this also called the Voo Doo Lily?

      Good write. Thank you!


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