Jack-in-the-Pulpit (PotW 25 - Large)

Hikers of the Eastern United States are likely to have discovered Jack-in-the-Pulpit at some point during their travels, a unique plant that bears startling resemblance to carnivorous plant species such as the Purple Pitcher (Sarracenia purpurea). However, the exquisite pitchers produced by the Jack-in-the-Pulpit serve a much less lethal purpose than those of predatory plants.

The flowers of Jack-in-the-Pulpit are only designed to trap insects temporarily, a strategy which greatly improves the frequency of pollination. When insects enter the pitchers, they become confused and struggle briefly while trying to find their way out. In a panicked search for the exit, insects inevitably rub all over pollen-producing organs of the flower. These temporary prisoners almost always manage to escape, but only after becoming coated in a layer of pollen. When the insects move on to another Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant, they are likely to smear the excess pollen all over it’s flower. This brilliant adaptation greatly improves the reproductive success of this leafy trickster.

So, while the flower cones of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit appear to be quite similar to the “true” pitchers of carnivorous plants, they actually possess a much different anatomy and function. Pitchers such as those found on the predatory Purple Pitcher Plant aren’t flowers, but modified leaves that have evolved a unique shape and the ability to absorb nutrients from dead insects. The “false pitcher” of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit has no similar means of absorbing nutrients through its flowers; it doesn’t benefit in any way from insects that might accidentally perish within.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit, or Arisaema triphyllum, can be found throughout a rather wide range of the Eastern United States, from Southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Flowers are only present on these plants for a short period of time in the Spring… usually no longer than one month. After that time, Jack-in-the-Pulpit can be quite challenging to identify, as it looks very similar to other low-lying, leafy plants and shrubs.

About this Photograph
Photograph of Jack-in-the-Pulpit © 2011 J.G. Coleman Photography. View more photography by Trails of Freedom Chief Researcher, Justin Coleman, at J. G. Coleman Photography.