wild arum



wild arum defined in 1912 year

wild arum - Wild Arum (Arum maculatum);
wild arum - The Wild Arum is absolutely unique among our English wild plants. A solitary species of a solitary genus, it has only one other family relative of any sort in Britain, and that is the Sweet Flag.

Further, it is a most remarkable plant in itself. In the loose and rich earth of woodland and hedge-side it dwells - "where the Arum flourishes, there the spirits of the wood rejoice," say the Germans - and early every spring it pierces the ground with sharp green spikes. These are the leaves which are rolled round the midribs like flags. As they unfurl they show themselves to be dark, handsome leaves shaped like an arrow-head, shining dark green in colour, and sometimes spotted with purplish marks. A month or so later other spikes (it is a plant of spikes) appear, and these too unroll and prove to be each a great green sheathing structure, the spathe, "in proportion like the ear of a hare," as old Gerard remarks. And within it and protected by it is yet another spike, the very extraordinary flower-spike.

Now this flower-spike, peeping out of the vase-like spathe, is very suggestive, and the fertile imagination of country-folk has given the plant all sorts of names, according to the resemblance they saw in it. Thus it is often "Lords and Ladies," " so-called, I presume, from the stately appearance the blossom has by being practically enclosed and protected by the sheath, so the flower appears as though it were in a kind of state chair or carriage," hazards one observer. But children commonly say that the name is due to the top of the flower being purple in some cases - these are the Lords - and paler in others - these are the Ladies. "Jack-in-the-Box" is a very apt title, as the picture shows, and so, too, are "Parson-in-a-Pulpit" and "Schoolmaster." "Cuckoo Babies," too, is not inapt, especially in the paler ones, for the bare, naked columns in the middle of the spathe as it unwraps are distinctly reminiscent of a baby swathed in a shawl. " Aaron," of course, has a reference to the rod-like column. The name " Wake Robin," though old and almost universal, seems to have no obvious application to-day. The Hertfordshire name of "Pop Lady," refers to the children's game of "popping" the spathe in bud and discovering the "Lady" within.

The ensheathing spathe, leaf-like above and marked by parallel veins, folds over and becomes constricted two-thirds of the way down, and its lower third forms a hollow chamber. If this be split and the whole interior exposed we can then see what the methods of this plant are. The upper part of the flower-spike is plain, purple and fleshy; below this, and just where the " waist" of the spathe occurs, is a ring of hairs all pointing downwards; each of these hairs represents a tiny aborted flower. Below them again comes a circular group of yellow male flowers, each flower reduced to a single stamen only; beneath all is a broad ring of round knobs, each a female flower represented merely by a single ovary. Therefore, is the plant sometimes called "Ladies' Finger," - "because of its rings," explain the children.

A large number of small flies, either lying on or crawling about the walls of the enclosure would probably next strike our notice. Now the arrangements which the plant has contrived out of the above material, though rather complicated, are most interesting to work out.

At the outset, when the spathe unfolds, the midges, attracted by the purple column - possibly, too, there may be a slight foetid odour - enter and crawl downwards past the "waist" into the hollow chamber, the downward-pointing hairs affording them every facility. Probably they have come from another similar plant; if so they are covered with pollen dust. At this moment the female flowers are in a receptive state, and the flies, crawling about, necessarily rub them with their dusty bodies. It should be noticed that the midges cannot escape if they would, for in this " lobster-pot" enclosure the previously accommodating hairs now stand as an imposing and impossible barrier to departure. The stigmas, however, each secrete a drop of honey which sweetens the detention. Meanwhile the male flowers above have opened their pollen boxes and showered out the pollen, covering the little flies and forming a thick carpet in which they can roll and eat. Shortly afterwards the hairs wither, and as there is now no barrier the little flies depart and seek " fresh woods and pastures new," and incidentally cross-fertilise the Arum. One hundred or more of these midges are often enclosed in one of these spathes.

There is one particularly curious feature about all these processes, and that is that considerable heat is given out by the flower-spike during their course. By carefully inserting a thermometer into the chamber and keeping it there this can be detected by any observer.

Fertilisation completed, the upper part of the spathe withers and falls forward, completely shutting up the opening, and serving, by the way, as a sign to flies of all kinds that proceedings there are completed. From this peculiarity the country folk have originated two more "aspect names" for the plant - "Priest's Hood" and "Friar's Cowl" - thus incidentally recalling the days when hooded Religious were a common feature of the time.

Recently a rather striking suggestion has been put forward that the Arum is really by way of being an insect-eating plant. Father Gerarde, who makes it, believes that the honey stupefies and kills the flies, and that they are then digested in the inner walls of the cavity. In proof he points out the undoubted fact that dead flies and portions of flies can be found there. He believes, too, that self-fertilisation is possible, though botanists do not generally accept this.

After flowering the Arum seems almost to disappear from notice until, in the autumn, columns of, first green, then orange-red, berries appear where the "Lords and Ladies" dwelt. They are very juicy, and but lightly attached to the stalk, so, though they are objects of considerable beauty, they are difficult to carry away. Each berry represents one of the little female flowers of the column and contains one or more hard seeds. Pheasants, and birds generally, feast on them, but they are very poisonous to man; indeed, the whole plant teems with poisonous juices, and an amazing suggestion was made by an old writer in the seventeenth century that if the root be cut up small and served with a "sallet," it may be given to an objectionable and "sawcey guest," and "drive him away from his over-much boldness," for "within a while after the taking of it it will so burn and pinch his mouth and throat that he shall not be able to eat any more or scarce to speak for pain." Which is certainly one way of getting rid of a bore!

The root of the Arum contains a considerable quantity of starch and at one time was the chief source of that necessary domestic article, though it was said to blister and roughen the hands of the laundress. This starch was also the basis both of a celebrated French cosmetic, "Cypress Powder," and of a much vaunted gout powder, "Portland Powder," but its internal use seems to have done considerably more harm than good, and, in fact, to have proved absolutely deadly at times.

One very quaint and ancient tradition is that "beares after they have been in their dens forty days without any manner of sustenance, but what they can get with licking and sucking their owne feet, do as soone as they come forth eate the herbe Cockoo-pint, through the windie nature whereof the hungry gut is opened and made fit againe to receive sustenance." The Arum is still often known as "Cuckoo-pint" or "Cuckoo-pintle," the prefix Cuckoo being given to many spring flowers. Country folk to-day insist that thrushes dig up and eat the roots of the Arum, and that it has a special medicinal effect upon them, but as they are not root-eaters in a general way, this statement must be accepted with reservation.

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