Arum Lily-----.Arum maculatum.

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.  These unusual plants are often overlooked, for the foliage blends well into the hedge bottom and shady woodland situations that they tenant. They delight to grow in damp soil.

photograph below the foliage of arum lily.


The bright glossy leaves have the appearance of being crinkled and have a very distinct arrow-head shape. In many cases the foliage has purple black spots or blotches, making them more easily identifiable. They appear as though Mother Nature has shaken the paint off one of her brushes which splashed upon the foliage. Other foliage may 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 1 above}. 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 10-20 cm long. just below the male flowers there is a ring of hairs which dust the pollen onto the insects which 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 4 above}. However, it is the parts you can not see that are 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 about the size of a blackbirds egg. {figure 2 above}.

On the outside they are of a brownish colour while internally they are white. When fresh they exude a milky juice which tastes almost insipid at first but soon produces a burning prickly sensation. The 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 all parts of this plant are POISONOUS.

Photo---The spathe and spadix can clearly be seen.It is easy to see why the spathe gives rise to the country title of Friar's Crown. Photograph courtesy of Sannse. CC BY-SA 3.0 License

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Arum Part of British History.

The arum has played an important part in British history and has had many uses attributed to it. For example in 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 the starch wort { wort is an old name for herb}.  This starch while being produced, caused blistering to the skin. A "soap" was also produced which had similar effects during its 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.

Below the red remain on the stalk long after the foliage has withered. Photograph courtesy of Frank Vincent CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


The berries may be tempting-----

The berries may be tempting to children but they should be made aware that 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 they soon kick in. The throat will swell and breathing difficulties occur. If one has only eaten a small amount the symptoms may just 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 unusual beauty alone. many garden varieties of this family have been cultivated. One of the most popular and familiar is the peace lily.

Below the beatiful peace lily Courtesy of  J.J. Harrison.CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

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