Wild flowers don’t come much wilder than the Arum Lily.
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.
Of course this was before the days of the internet when people didn’t have such a clear idea of what things actually looked like.
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 base of the spadix lies a complex arrangement of flowers, totally enclosed by the spathe and escape proofed.
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.
Beneath the trap hairs lie the pollen producing male flowers. They will dust the flies after they have pollinated the flowers below and before they are released.
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.
These berries are extremely poisonous and I have read that just one berry might be enough to kill a child. Take care and educate them.
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.
The fly trap doesn’t appear until late in April and when it does it is quite short lived. You should find these in late April and May.
Once the seed is set the spathe withers and the leaves die. All that is left is a spike of green berries. These slowly turn orange and then red. It is a fruit of the autumn.
You will find it in the place your mother told you not to go.
If you go looking for it then think on what the term “Wild Flower” really means and make sure that you see it before it sees you.