The sap of Wild Arum is not just deadly, it is violently so. It burns and blisters, causes inflammation and swelling. It is so effective that nobody ever dies from consuming this deadly poison, they spit it out.
That said it is still one of the most reported causes of plant poisoning at hospital A&E’s. You know when you have ate it.
Here is Arum lying discretely amongst my salad leaves (Wild Garlic), be careful when you forage.
It is a flower that people can’t help noticing and so it is a flower with many names. Lords and Ladies, Cuckoo-pint, Devils and Angels, Cows and Bulls. These names are all references to human genitalia given because of the plants striking resemblance to the male and female parts.
Such names bring to mind sniggering boys and giggling girls, good natured fun from a time of innocence.
Let’s have a closer look at The Adders Root.
What you are looking at is not actually the flower. The flowers are hidden deep inside. You are looking at a complex fly trap because it is flies that pollinate the Arum. The plant traps them and then it lets them go again that they may visit other flowers.
The brown central spike is called a spadix. It’s purpose is to produce a smell to attract flies that breed in dung. The spadix also produces heat raising the temperature by up to 15 degrees celsius. The green leaf like structure that surrounds the spadix is called the spathe. It’s purpose is to entrap the flies and drop them down to the flowers below. It secretes a slippery coating that the flies can’t grip and they slide down.
At the top of the trap there is a cluster of hairs derived from sterile male flowers. It’s purpose is simply to block the flies escape. When the plant has finished with the flies these hairs will wither releasing them to take pollen to another Arum that will put them in a new trap and use them just the same.
The important seed producing female flowers sit at the bottom of the trap welcoming the flies with their fresh pollen. These flowers will become the spike of bright red berries that remain when the spathe and the rest of the spadix have withered.
The leaves appear in February. Large and glossy and distinctively arrow shaped it is good to familiarise yourself with these. For quite a while this is all that you will see of the plant.