The nature of things
Lords and ladies
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