The Jack in the pulpit first caught my attention on a walk on the Chaar dukaan – Lal Tibba circuit in Landour Mussoorie. It seemed similar to a pitcher plant, but had no lid, and a snake like (unforked) tongue rising into the air. When I returned to Mussoorie a month later this plant had vanished. This plant remained a mystery until a friend gave me his copy of the Woodstock field guide which identified the plant for me.

The snake like hood, the green cob, the red cob and the disintegrating cob

Botanical name :   Arisaema triphyllum

Common name : Common Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bog onion, Brown dragon, Indian turnip, Wake robin or                                    Wild turnip

Local Names     :   Hindi Saap ka Bhutta (Lit. the snake’s corncob)

Description     :   The plant has a cobra like hood with a green or brown unforked tongue protruding from                              under the hood. This is later replaced by the fruit.

Leaf                 :    The leaves are trifoliate, with groups of three leaves growing together at the top of one                               long stem produced from a corm; each leaflet is 8-15 cm long and 3-7 cm broad

Flower             :

Fruit                :    The fruit which looks like green corn soon turns bright red. Each bright red fruit has 4                                  spherical seeds resembling coriander.

Uses               :  The plant contains calcium oxalate crystals (Just like Colocasia esculenta -Taro/Arbi) in all parts, and because of this consumption of the raw plant material results in a powerful burning/pricking sensation. It can cause irritation of the mouth and digestive system, and on occasion the swelling of the mouth and throat may be severe enough to affect breathing and cause death due to suffocation.

If the plant is allegedly  properly dried or cooked, it can be eaten as a root vegetable.

A preparation of the root was reported to have been used by Native Americans as a treatment for sore eyes. Preparations were also made to treat rheumatism, bronchitis, and snakebites, as well as to induce sterility.

Warning: The oxalic acid in jack in the pulpit is poisonous if ingested

Note: [30th Nov 2010]

I just bought the excellent book Wildwood Wisdom by Ellsworth Jaeger and it says that the Indians ate the tuber of this plant after roasting or boiling. This therefore makes it no more dangerous than Colocasia esculenta [taro] (called arbi in Hindi) which is commonly/easily available in the market in India.

Back home, the leaves of the Colocasia esculenta are de-veined (the leaves are placed on a cutting board with their bottom facing upwards and the  protruding veins are sliced off horizontally leaving the leaf intact) The leaves are then stacked one on top of the other with layers of  ground rice paste in between and rolled, tied and steamed. They are then cut into slices and deep fried or added to a gravy. It is common practice to add lots of tamarind to the preparation of the leaves/tubers which seems to neutralize the oxalic acid. The tubers when cooked as part of a gravy become pretty slimy which some people like a lot (including me!)

Meanwhile on my walkabouts, I started noticing  this neat plant which had what looked like a cob with green kernels of “corn”. Fortunately , I was around long enough -another month in Mussoorie to watch the green corn like fruit ripen to a startling bright red and then fall one by one to the ground. It was only when I searched Google for Arisaema  triphyllum, that I realized that all these different sightings were of the same plant commonly called Jack in the Pulpit. I guess I missed the flowering season for the month that I was back in Delhi.


I used the Photojoiner website to create the combined image stages of the Jack in the pulpit

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