Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit

Common name: Jack in the Pulpit, Indian Turnip, Wake Robin

Arisaema triphyllum

About Jack in the Pulpit

This tuberous perennial plant is native to the eastern parts of North America. The species has three distinct types and many unique regional populations. In the past, some botanists have classified Jack in the Pulpit into three separate species, Arisaema triphyllum, A. atrorubens, and A. stewardsonii. Today, however, they are all considered one single species, Arisaema triphyllum. Other Arisaema species are found in Asia.

The unusual flowers are pollinated by gnats and the larvae of thrips. Some wild birds, especially the Wild Turkey, feed on the leaves and berries. Mammals rarely eat the plant.

Each plant bears either male or female flowers, and the flowers do not self-pollinate. Jack in the Pulpit is unusual, however, in that the sex of the flowers carried by a single plant can change from year to year. In general, young plants and those that were stressed in the previous year bear male flowers, while mature, well-nourished plants bear female flowers. These plants can live from 20 to 100 years if conditions are favorable.

Arisaema triphyllum can be found in damp woodlands throughout the eastern part of North America, but they are a threatened species in some areas due to the destruction of their habitats. Don't ever collect plants from the wild. Buy them from commercial growers instead, and be sure they are nursery-propagated.


Arisaema triphyllum grows from x inches to two feet tall. The underground part of the plant is shaped like a turnip and is actually a corm. The lower part of the corm is flat and the upper part has many wavy rootlets.Jack in the Pulpit leaves are trifoliate, with three leaflets growing together at the top of a long stem. Because of this, it is sometimes confused with poison ivy. The large leaves have smooth margins and a netted pattern of veins. The flowers appear on a short stalk under the leaves.

The flowers, which appear from April to June, are yellowish-green, and some have purple or brown stripes. Each flower has a spathe, the "pulpit" mentioned in the common name, that curves to a broad point arching over the spadix, or "Jack".

The fruit is a cluster of smooth, shiny red berries.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom - Plantae
Division - Magnoliophyta
Class - Liliopsida
Order - Arales
Family - Araceae
Genus - Arisaema
Species - Arisaema triphyllum


Jack in the Pulpit tolerates a soil pH from somewhat acidic to somewhat alkaline. The soil should contain large amounts of organic material.

Plants should be kept evenly moist. Good drainage is important! The corm can be damaged or killed by excessive water during the winter.

Arisaema triphyllum thrives in dappled to full shade. It cannot tolerate full sun.

It is winter-hardy in USDA zone 3 and warmer areas.

The tubers can be transplanted in early autumn, after the foliage has died back. Jack in the Pulpit can be propagated by dividing bulb offsets.

This plant can also be grown from seed. The fruit should be overripe before the seed is harvested. There will be a fleshy coating on the seeds, which must be removed. Wear gloves while doing this; some people find the berries irritating to their skin. The seeds do not store well, so sow them as soon as possible in the fall.


Native Americans used a preparation of the root on sore eyes and to treat skin infections. It was also used as a tonic and to treat cold symptoms.The corm was eaten by several eastern American Indians tribes, hence the common name Indian Turnip. It was treated first, by boiling or drying, to remove the calcium oxalate crystals which cause a burning sensation if eaten raw.


Calcium oxalate crystals are present in the entire plant. They cause a powerful burning sensation and swelling of the lips and tongue if eaten raw. Handling Jack in the Pulpit can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals.

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