The na­ture of things

Lords and ladies

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by

ORDS and ladies is fin­ish­ing its re­mark­able cy­cle now—at least, what we can eas­ily see of it; the ves­tiges of its weirdly at­trac­tive seed wand are ev­i­dent here and there on the wood­land edge. A short­ish spike topped by clus­tered or­ange-scar­let berries, it’s an eye­catcher, but deadly, as all parts of the plant are poi­sonous.

Over the cen­turies, Arum mac­u­la­tum has gath­ered nu­mer­ous ro­bust coun­try names, most of them a nod and a wink to the phal­lic na­ture of the flower spike it sends up in mid spring. Folk names in­clude sweet­hearts, silly lovers, Adam and Eve, Jack-in-the-pul­pit, Par­son-inthe-pul­pit, cuckoo pin­tle and willy lily, as well as the widely known lords and ladies.

From the flower’s point of view, it’s a so­phis­ti­cated and suc­cess­ful piece of ap­pa­ra­tus; the promi­nent, cylin­dri­cal spike or spadix is full of car­bo­hy­drate, en­abling it to warm up at ma­tu­rity and emit a cow­pat smell, which at­tracts small flies. They’re drawn down into the depths, through trap­ping hairs, to where the tightly clus­tered male flow­ers sit above the fe­male ones. Within, the flies crawl about, pol­li­nat­ing the flow­ers, although it’s usu­ally a one-way ticket.

LThe berries de­velop in sum­mer warmth, the creamy-green cowl and leaves rot away. With seed ripen­ing and dis­per­sal, all will dis­ap­pear, although new leaves will emerge with the New Year. KBH

Illustration by Bill Dono­hoe

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