Wild Flower Families
Indian Pipe Family
Read More Articles About: Wildflower Families
( Originally Published 1908 )
THE Arum family is one of unusual interest on account of the extraordinary structure of the flowers. The common Calla of greenhouses is a familiar illustration of the group, as is also the quaint Jack-in-the-pulpit of swampy woods. In all of these plants the outer part of the flower consists of a large, more or less membranous part called the spathe, within which is an erect, club-like part called the spadix. On the lower portion of this spadix the stamens and pistils are borne. The rootstock is commonly a tuber or corm-like bulb and the fruit is generally a brightly colored berry.
SWAMP CABBAGE. One of the most interesting members of this interesting family is the Swamp Cabbage or Skunk Cabbage. This is the first of the herbaceous plants to discover the return of spring: in some sheltered corner of a bog, where the surrounding woods keep off the chill March winds, it absorbs the warmth of the sun-shine and sends up its strange blossoms longbefore other flowers have begun to start. The blossoms precede the leaves, which gradually push up as the days go by, unfolding only as the flowers are beginning to fade.
In their structure the flowers of the Swamp Cabbage are peculiar. The large hood-like spathe encloses the rounded mass of the spadix, which is completely covered by the florets, in which the pistils mature before the stamens. The pollen is shed in great abundance in the closed chamber of the spathe, so that it may easily be carried to other plants through the visits of insects, though evidently it is so protected from the wind that there is little likelihood of its being blown from plant to plant.
Many plants call insects to their aid in this work of pollen distribution. One would think, however, that this early flowering Swamp Cabbage had little chance of such assistance at a season when the northern slopes are yet covered with snow and the sheltered pools are still filled with ice. But the plant has brought about a marvellous adaptation to the conditions of its life. At this early season certain small flies are abundant in the situations where the Swamp Cabbage grows. They fly about in the early spring sun-shine and when the weather is cold and stormy they seek such shelter as may be at hand. Now the most perfect shelter that these flies can find is inside the Swamp Cabbage spathes, which are so constructed that neither rain nor wind may enter; and, surprising as it may seem, the blossom not only furnishes shelter from the elements, but it also provides artificial heat. Botanists have found that the purple substance of the spathes actually gives off heat, so that the temperature inside the blossom is higher than it is outside, even when the wind is not blowing. Consequently it is not strange that the flies seek such snug retreats when the sun is hidden by clouds, but come out again when it shines once more.
Now those flies that went into a flower where the pollen had been shed would find the bottom of their retreat thickly covered with the yellow powder. Whenever they move they must dust themselves with this powder and when they leave they must carry much of it on their bodies and legs. Some of this will remain upon them during their brief sojourn in the sunshine, and when they again seek shelter many of them will be likely to enter the chamber of another flower in which the stigmas are receptive. As they walk over the florets of this, the viscid stigmas will catch and retain the pollen grains, and thus the process of cross-pollination will be completed.
There are other visitors also to these early blossoms. Scavenger flies are especially attracted by the color and odor, and very early in spring the common honey bees find it worth their while to visit them.
The Swamp Cabbage is of decided interest in another respect. If you attempt to dig up one of the plants you will find that the bulbous root is some distance down, and if you stop to think you will wonder how it came to be so far below the surface. The reason is that the root of this plant is a " burrowing bulb." Soon after the seeds which are developed from the flowers begin to grow in the rich soil of the margin of the bog they form at the base a little bulb, and from the stem just above this bulb they send downward strong roots that in turn send out from near their tips numerous side branches. When these have become firmly 'established the main roots contract and thus pull the bulb downward.
JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT. Every child knows the Jack-in-the-pulpit which is found in blossom so commonly in rich, moist woods during May. The structure of the flower is very similar to that of the familiar Calla, or Calla Lily, of the greenhouse, the white spathe of the Calla, however, being in this case of a greenish or purplish color and arching over the spadix instead of arching away from it. By taking off the spathe you can readily see the stamens and pistils on the lower part of the spadix. Sometimes stamens only will be present sometimes pistils only; while sometimes both are together on the same spadix, but this is unusual.
These flowers are also called Lords and Ladies, the Lords being the highly colored purple ones and the Ladies the more modest greenish ones.
You can generally find small flies within the Jack-in-the-pulpit blossoms. These carry the pollen from the stamen-bearers to the pistil-bearers and so bring about pollination. After this the stamen-bearing blossoms fade away while the pistil-bearing blossoms develop green berries which become bright red toward the end of sum-mer.
This plant is a very widely distributed species, being found from Nova Scotia to Florida and west as far as Minnesota and Louisiana.
The Green Dragon is a plant closely related to the Jack-in-the-pulpit. It is found locally over a wide range in the United States. In the east it is generally rare, however, and is seldom seen by most plant lovers. The spadix is very long, projecting much beyond the spathe and giving the plant a striking and characteristic appearance. Its general structure is much like that of the Jack-in-the-pulpit.
MARSH CALLA. A study of the blossom of the curious Marsh Calla, or Water Arum, readily shows its resemblance to its cousins, the Skunk Cabbage and the Jack-in-the-pulpit, as well as the cultivated Calla of the greenhouse and window garden. Standing erect in the middle of the blossom is the cylindrical spadix bearing the numerous minute florets of a greenish yellow color, and surrounding it is the large white spathe with its pointed tip which gives the flower its chief attractiveness. The thick and succulent heart-shaped leaves are pointed at the tip. The plant is most at home in northern regions in cool bogs and along the borders of shallow, sluggish streams in the woods, where it is often very abundant.