When I was upstate this past weekend my Aunt Bonnie mentioned that she had come across a couple Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) in the woods near her house. I was intrigued as it had been years since I had seen one and they are such cool-looking plants, named for their likeness to a preacher in the pulpit, so she walked me down to where she had found them and, after we had pulled up a bunch of invasive garlic mustard, I took some pictures of the Jack in the Pulpit.

Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit

Most people (myself included until recently) would assume that the pictures above are of the flower of the plant, but they would be wrong. What is shown above is actually the spathe (the pulpit) and spadix (jack) of the plant. The tiny flowers of the plant actually grow on the spadix. It takes several years for a plant to be mature enough to actually flower: for the first years of the plant’s life all the energy it gets from the sun goes towards building up reserves and it does not attempt to flower and reproduce until at least three years have passed. But the young plants do produce three-part leaves like in the picture below.

Jack in the Pulpit

Some subspecies of Jack in the Pulpit have one set of leaves and others have two. The colors inside the spathe can vary as well, but the dark purple is the most common. I’m not sure if the plant above and below is just what a younger plant looks like or if it is a different subspecies of than the purple ones. One can find Jack in the Pulpit, an herbaceous perennial, in moist woodlands across eastern North America and as far west as Texas. Their seeds are contained in berries which are green until they ripen to a bright red.

green Jack in the Pulpit

Anyway, upon my return from upstate I started to wonder in Jack in the Pulpit is present in any of New York City’s parks. I got my answer when I met a gentleman who leads plant walks for the parks department at the waterhole at Forest Park. I asked him about it and he walked about five paces and pointed one out to me. Did I ever feel silly! There were several more in the general vicinity, two of which are pictured below.

Jack in the Pulpit in Forest Park

So get out to your local woodland and if the birds aren’t calling from up above look down low and find one of these native plants to admire (that is, if you live in eastern North America).



Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.