I remember being fascinated by these bizarre exotic plants as I roamed the woods as a child in piedmont North Carolina. A spring trek through the woods would find the new leaves just pushing through the leaf debris, while the same trip a few days later would find the same plants with unfurling flowers. The diversity in the inflorescences was so great, I spent most of each trek closely examining each specimen.
Having only two native species in my hometown, Arisaema triphyllum and Arisaema dracontium, I had always longed to see more of what the genus offered. Unfortunately, when Pangea broke apart, most of the really dramatic looking species made the journey to Asia. When foreign-born Arisaema started arriving back in the US, it was primarily from Indian nurseries in the Kalimpong region. Unfortunately, most of these species didn't fare well in our hot, humid North Carolina climate. Although a few arisaema seed would occasionally make their way into the US, it wasn't until the early 1990s when Internet use increased, that we really gained access to many of the nearly 200 species of mostly Asian arisaema. Take a look at our Arisaema photo gallery at JLBG.org.
In 1996, I was fortunate to spend several weeks in Yunnan, China studying arisaema, followed in the fall of 1997 with a similar trip to Korea, both with my friend Dan Hinkley of Heronswood Nursery. By this time, Heronswood had already begun to offer a wide array of arisaemas from Dan's earlier wild collections. Also, around this time, our friend Barry Yinger established an import connection with Japan's Shikoku Nursery, who produces wholesale quantities of Asian arisaema from seed. Thanks to this "harmonic arisaema convergence", and other markets that opened in subsequent years, gardeners in the US are now able to grow a huge array of arisaema species.
Arisaemas are composed of an underground tuber, rhizome, or pseudo-rhizome, (name for structures on plants like Arisaema speciosum which are intermediate between tubers and rhizomes) that gives rise to either a pseudostem (carries leaves and inflorescences), or a petiole which only carries the leaf. For species without a pseudostem, the inflorescence emerges on a short stalk called a peduncle alongside the leaf petiole. For species which have a pseudostem, the inflorescence emerges either on top of, or at some point along it on a short stem, also called a peduncle. Arisaema tubers/rhizomes occur primarily as one of two shapes: either discoid like a flying saucer (Arisaema ringens) or shaped like a cigar (Arisaema speciosum).
Arisaema inflorescences (flower heads) consist of many parts, but the two most prominent are the spathe (pulpit) and spadix (jack). The spathe is the pitcher and/or hood, while the spadix is the "stalk" inside the inflorescence that holds the sex organs. In some species the spathe develops into a long threadlike tail, while in other species, it is the spadix that copies this habit.
If you are the voyeuristic type, then you will love Arisaema since they have one of the most unique sex habits in the plant kingdom. Some arisaema plants are male, some are female, some are both, and some change back and forth (paradioecious). As a general rule, most arisaemas are male when young, then when they build up enough energy to have babies, they switch and become female. The year after giving birth (fruiting), they will often revert to being male again. To ensure pollination and therefore the possibility of seed set when you have several plants, you can damage one larger plant so that it returns weaker the next year as a male.
There are only a few commonly grown Arisaema species that always have both sexes on the same plant. Those include Arisaema flavum (always), Arisaema tortuosum (when mature), Arisaema consanguineum (often when mature), Arisaema heterophyllum (when mature), and Arisaema dracontium (when mature, but not self fertile). Most arisaema species are dioecious (two houses), meaning that the male and female live apart, therefore each inflorescence is either male or female.
North American Native Arisaema Species
Arisaema triphyllum (Three-leaf Jack-in-the-Pulpit) is without question the most prevalent US species, native in all but 11 of the westernmost continental states, where it is usually found in moist and seasonally flooded low woodlands. The 1' - 2' tall pseudostems (stalks) are clothed with two trifoliate leaves. The mid-April (NC) inflorescences that top the pseudostem range from green with white stripes to purple with white stripes. Arisaema triphyllum typically goes dormant by midsummer. (Hardiness Zone 3-9)
There are only a few named vegetatively propagated clones of Arisaema triphyllum. The most unique of those is Arisaema triphyllum 'Black Jack'. I have seen other Florida and southern Georgia clones with flecks of black in the leaf, but none this nice. Arisaema triphyllum 'Mrs. French' and Arisaema triphyllum 'Starburst' are similar forms with prominent white veins on a green leaf. Both of these have green and white striped inflorescences. I have found similar white-striped leaf forms in coastal North Carolina, so this is a trait that shows up occasionally.
Arisaema triphyllum 'Black Jack' (Black Jack Jack-in-the-Pulpit) was discovered by native plant guru Bob McCartney on one of his many jaunts through central Florida. This selection has shiny black foliage with a few green veins. For us, it emerges slightly later (mid May) than most Arisaema triphyllum. The 1' tall clumps are adorned in late spring with "pulpits" that have a stunning black spathe. We have found Arisaema triphyllum 'Black Jack' also spreads slightly by underground tuber fingers. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Arisaema triphyllum 'Mrs. French' (Mrs. French's Jack-in-the-Pulpit) is a seed strain very similar to Arisaema triphyllum 'Starburst' with similar prominent white veins on the leaves. Arisaema 'Mrs. French' was distributed by plantsman Nick Nickou, who got seed from Mrs. French's garden. (Hardiness Zone 5-8, at least)
Arisaema triphyllum 'Starburst' (Starburst Jack-in-the-Pulpit) is an amazing selection of our native Jack-in-the-Pulpit that comes from plantsman Paul James of Virginia. This vigorous, fast multiplying selection emerges in spring with trifoliate leaves adorned with silver white veins. The 22" tall clumps are adorned in earlyspring with green inflorescences. (Hardiness Zone 5-8, at least)
Arisaema quinatum (Five-leaf Jack-in-the-Pulpit) is a little-known species from the eastern US, which is often found growing with Arisaema triphyllum. While the inflorescence is similar to Arisaema triphyllum, Arisaema quinatum always has 5 leaflets, compared to 3 for Arisaema triphyllum. Some taxonomists have lumped the two species together, probably because immature Arisaema quinatum start out with only three leaflets. We have found, however, that seed from Arisaema quinatum always produces 5-leaflet offspring. Both Arisaema triphyllum and Arisaema quinatum are members of the Arisaema Section Pistillata.
Arisaema dracontium (Green Dragon Jack-in-the-Pulpit) can also be found growing alongside Arisaema triphyllum. The multi-leaflet horseshoe-shaped leaf Arisaema dracontium is easily distinguished from the three-leaflet Arisaema triphyllum. Some of the forms that I've found in North Carolina are quite small, never reaching 15" in height. Conversely, some forms from the upper Midwest can reach 3-4' tall. The inflorescences are quite similar to the Asian Arisaema heterophyllum with a green hooded spathe and a tall, thin upright spadix. Arisaema dracontium belongs in the taxonomic Arisaema Section Tortuosa. (Hardiness Zone 4-9)
The only North American species from South of the US Border is the Mexican Arisaema macrospathum. Arisaema macrospathum matures around 15" tall and has a wider, flatter green spathe than Arisaema dracontium. Like Arisaema dracontium, it also belongs in the Arisaema Section Tortuosa. (Hardiness Zone 7b-9)
For the remainder of this article, I am going to address the arisaema species by their close relationships, or taxonomic sections as mentioned above. Think of these 'sections' as a group of close cousins.
Arisaema Section Arisaema - large three-lobed leaves with a long pendulous (spadix) tongue
This section contains many of the high Himalayan species including Arisaema elephas, Arisaema wilsonii, Arisaema utile, and other species that have proven difficult to grow in our hot, humid climate.
Arisaema costatum is native to high elevations (6,000'-9,000') in Nepal and neighboring Tibet. Arisaema costatum makes a stunning plant even without the showy inflorescence. The 3'+ tall reddish petiole is topped with a three part leaf, similar to Arisaema speciosum, which in good conditions, can reach 3' wide. In late spring, the peduncle (flower stalk) emerges to nearly 2' tall with a large, dark purple and white striped hood which ends in a thin red purple tail. Inside the hood, the thin black purple spadix stands out against the "pulpit windows." (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Arisaema dahaiense is a species, named in 1977, from the Gaoligong (Dahai) Shan region of Western Yunnan, China that is similar (or identical to) Arisaema galeatum (P. Bruggeman - personal conversation). Although it is similar to many of the hard-to-grow high Himalayan species, Arisaema dahaiense has proven quite growable in our climate. The petiole supports large trifoliate leaves that are very similar to Arisaema speciosum. The hood-like dark purple, yellow-veined spathe and long tongue (spadix) reminds us of Arisaema griffithii. (Hardiness Zone 6-7, at least)
Arisaema griffithii is the arisaema to which the common name cobra lily is most closely associated. Although in shape the inflorescence resembles Arisaema ringens, the inflorescence of Arisaema griffithii emerges on a short peduncle alongside the tripartite leaf, where Arisaema ringens sports its inflorescence atop a leafed pseudostem. The long, thin black tongue of Arisaema griffithii hangs from the bizarre, purple and yellow striped, cobra head looking spathe, all held atop a short 3 6" peduncle in mid-spring. Arisaema griffithii occurs in open forests to 12,000' elevation, and for this reason resents summer heat and poor drainage. (Hardiness Zone 5-7)
Arisaema speciosum has large three-lobed leaves similar to Arisaema franchetianum, except the leaves are much more deeply veined. The tuber is also quite different, looking more like a long cigar than the typical rounded arisaema tuber. Arisaema speciosum typically grows to 2' tall with attractive cinnamon-patterned petoles. The short peduncle (floral stalk) emerges alongside the leaves in early May. (Hardiness Zone 7-8)
Arisaema speciosum 'Himalayan Giant' is an amazing form of Arisaema speciosum, which often goes by the invalid name of Arisaema speciosum var. magnificum. It is simply a giant race of Arisaema speciosum discovered in India. From one end of the unusual cigar shaped tuber (plant horizontally), the new growth emerges in late spring. The 30" tall cobra marked petiole is topped with three dark green, heavily textured leaflets each edged in red. The inflorescence, which arises from the base on a short peduncle in early May (NC), is composed of a wine and white striped hood, holding a whitish pink spadix that starts out sturdy and thick, becoming nothing more than a crumpled red thread at the end...obviously a rough night. Well drained, but slightly moist soils during the dormant period are the key to success with Arisaema speciosum. (Hardiness Zone 7-8)
Arisaema Section Attenuata - long spadices, central leaflet upturned on emergence
The arisaema section Attenuata has been an on-again, off-again section, often merged with Section Tortuosa until recent DNA work, diverged the two again. Most species in this section have up to 7 leaflets per leaf, with the central leaflet upturned upon emergence.
Arisaema saxatile is a lovely little jack-in-the-pulpit from China that emerges in late May in NC with two leaves of 5-7 leaflets on a 15" pseudostem. The pseudostem is topped in early June with a lovely small white pitcher from which emanates a 6-9" long, dark green tongue that hangs downward like a dog that's chased far too many cars. The inflorescence gives off a delightful lemony scent...a nice change for a group whose close relatives are known for a more offensive body odor. Arisaema saxatile has proven to be a great garden performer, reliably offsetting and flowering each season. Recent research has demonstrated that the plant we currently grow as Arisaema saxatile, may actually be Arisaema mairei. (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Arisaema yunnanense is a widespread jack-in-the-pulpit species that we encountered often in its namesake, Yunnan, China. The 18" tall green pseudostem is adorned with trifoliate green leaves and topped with a green and white striped spathe, holding the long-exerted thin green spadix. This has proven to be an easy-to-grow, long-lived, nicely offsetting species...just not one of the more spectacular species.
Arisaema Section Dochafa - small yellow inflorescence
Section Dochafa effectively consists of only one species, Arisaema flavum.
Arisaema flavum is a unique species with an equally unique native range, found from Sichuan, China west to Africa. As mentioned earlier, Arisaema flavum is a bisexual species and consequently regularly sets seed. Although the pseudostems of Arisaema flavum can reach 2' tall, it is completely out of proportion for the small inflorescence which at best can reach thumb-size. The bright yellow spadix is wonderfully attractive...only small. For us, Arisaema flavum is one of the later emerging species, usually flowering in mid to late June, and one of the few species that prefer more sun than shade.. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Arisaema Section Fimbriata (Fimbriate Spathe Species)
Arisaema in the Section Fimbriata are primarily tropical species with spadices that resemble soft bottle brushes instead of the typical solid spadix.
Arisaema album is one of the few members of this section that we have found reliably winter hardy in our climate. The 18" tall petioles (stalks) of trifoliate leaves appear alongside the 18" tall flower stalks in late May (NC). The green spathes are highlighted by a bright white 'window' at the back, hence the name 'album'. For us, this Himalayan species has been a very good offsetting, easy-to-grow species. (Hardiness Zone 7b-8, at least)
Arisaema Section Flagellarisaema - long tongue (spadix) species
Arisaema kiushianum has proven to be one of the easiest of the cobra lilies to grow. It also multiplies well, so you can divide the clump after a few seasons and share with your friends. The cutest member of the genus boasts a solitary leaf with 7-13 leaflets that sits atop a 15" tall green petiole (stalk). The stunning 8" tall inflorescence emerges from the ground beside the peduncle in late April (NC). The narrow tip of the pitcher (spathe) folds over on itself and the inside of the pitcher is dark purple and white striped with a dramatic white T mark engraved in the back. The long, whip like tongue (spadix) extends 6" out from the pitcher in hopes of luring insects...for sexual purposes only! (Hardiness Zone 6b-9)
Arisaema thunbergii is an excellent cobra lily for the garden, most often represented by the subspecies Arisaema thunbergii ssp. urashima, which has a slightly wider spadix. The most unique of the Arisaema thunbergii forms is the Taiwanese Arisaema thunbergii ssp. autumnale, which has a reverse growing season and flowers in fall. Obviously, this subspecies would not fare well in cold winter climates.
Arisaema thunbergii ssp. urashima (syn: Arisaema urashima) is composed of a 15" tall, dusty purple petiole (stalk), topped by one horizontal leaf with 11-15 narrow leaflets (wider than Arisaema thunbergii ssp. thunbergii) radiating out from a central horseshoe shaped base. In mid-spring, the purple pitcher emerges from a short peduncle (flower stalk). The top cover narrows to a point that hangs over the front of the pitcher. From inside emerges a purple, whip like tail extending upward to nearly 18"...a true dominatrix moment! Arisaema urashima is very easy to grow and offsets well, unlike many of its cousins. Arisaema urashima is best in typical to dry woodland conditions. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema Section Franchetiana - large tripartite leaves and flying saucer-shaped tuber
The four members of the Franchetiana section are highly prized for their inflorescences and fortunately they also make some of the best garden plants. Members of this group form a pancake-shaped tuber that typically offsets well. Of the four species in this section, Arisaema candidissimum and Arisaema lichiangense have jack-in-the-pulpit type inflorescences, while the other two Arisaema fargesii and Arisaema franchetianum have cobra lily-style inflorescences. Two of the most confusing plants in the section are Arisaema fargesii and Arisaema franchetianum, since there are plants from some Chinese populations that don't fit the key for either of these species. Some of these plants were formerly known as Arisaema purpureogaleatum, but this name was subsumed into Arisaema franchetianum in the recent Flora of China treatment. Unfortunately, these plants still don't fit the key, indicating that they are most likely in the midst of speciation (forming a new species).
Arisaema candidissimum is one of the easiest to grow and most beautiful of the jack-in-the-pulpits. Emerging in very late spring (May or June) are 3" tall peduncles topped with pink pitchers dramatically striped with translucent, white vertical veins (candidissimum means dazzling white). Emerging beside the inflorescence are petioles ending in two giant, three lobed, matte finish leaves, which can reach 2' in width. Arisaema candidissimum offsets freely in a well drained site in the garden. The inflorescences of Arisaema candidissimum can be either white or pink. In the wild, it is found growing on sunny, rocky banks. (Hardiness Zone 5-7)
Arisaema fargesii is a Chinese cobra lily, discovered by French plant explorer Pere Farges in the early 1900s. Arisaema fargesii turned out to be one of the easiest to grow and most spectacular arisaema species in our collection. In late spring, the 18" tall x 30" wide, giant, trifoliate, glossy, light green leaves (similar to Arisaema candidissimum) emerge. Alongside on a short peduncle are the inflorescences that resemble a large wine red pitcher with dramatic white striping. The tip of the pitcher ends in a narrow, congested, alien like mass of red thread. From inside the spathe emerges the spadix, resembling a tiny red lizard peeking out of the pitcher...absolutely stunning! (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema franchetianum is another Chinese cobra lily with matte finish glaucous foliage similar to Arisaema candidissimum with three large, equal sized lobes on the giant, 2' wide leaf. In summer (mid July in NC), the 6" tall flowering peduncle (stalk) emerges from the base to produce a dark purple and white striped pitcher. Emerging from the center of the pitcher is a narrow purple-flushed tongue that just reaches the edge of the pitcher. (Hardiness Zone 5-8, guessing)
Arisaema lichiangense is the least known of the Arisaema candidissimum relatives. If you imagine a cross between Arisaema franchetianum and Arisaema candidissimum, this would be the result. The leaf is similar in size and thickness respectively to Arisaema candidissimum, but the spathe (pitcher) is much darker pink, often with a brown overlay and the curved dark spadix is quite thin. This is the least vigorous of the members of this section. (Hardiness Zone 6-8, guessing)
Arisaema Section Pistillata (formerly Pedatisecta) - Pedate leaf species
The Arisaema section Pedatisecta includes the pedate leaf (hand-shaped) species. This group include the US native Arisaema triphyllum mentioned earlier, but also includes some very popular Asian species.
Arisaema amurense is an easy to grow, small jack-in-the-pulpit that forms a fast multiplying clump in the woodland garden. In spring, one 5 leaflet leaf emerges on a short 10" tall pseudostem. The flowering stalk (peduncle) rises another couple of inches past where the leaf is joined and ends in a 3" tall green and white striped pitcher. The hood (spathe) is draped over the short stubby sexual parts (spadix) like a wind blown flag. In our garden, this is consistently one of the earliest emerging species that we grow...usually mid March in NC. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema amurense 'Splitter Splatter' is a still unreleased Plant Delights selection with each leaf heavily flecked with silver. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema engleri, which hails from 4000' elevation in the Hubei Province of China is a rarely offered jack-in-the-pulpit that is often confused in the trade with the Japanese Arisaema sazensoo and Arisaema sikokianum. Emerging in very early spring, the two 5-7 leaflet leaves emerge from a central pseudostem (usually purple). Sitting between the two leaves on a short peduncle (stalk) sits a 3-4" tall purple and white striped pitcher. The greenish and purple speckled sex organ sticks upright in the pitcher, with the dark purple hood draped overtop... probably to keep it dry! (Hardiness Zone 7-9)
Arisaema iyoanum var. nakaianum is one of the rarest and most dramatic of the Japanese native jack-in-the-pulpits...found only along riverbanks in Japan's Shikoku Province. The 3' tall single black blotched pseudostem is topped with a single horseshoe shaped green leaf with 9-11 leaflets. The jack in the pulpit like spathe is dark black with pink to green vertical striping. Inside the pitcher (spathe) sits a club like green spadix with black freckles...each seedling is slightly different. The shape of the inflorescence is very reminiscent of the character Mushmouth on the Fat Albert cartoons. (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Arisaema kishidae is a little known but easy to grow Japanese species native only occurring in the cryptomeria forests just outside Osaka, Japan. Looking like a cross of Arisaema serratum and Arisaema sikokianum, each 15"-24" tall pseudostem (stalk) is adorned with two 7-9 leaflet leaves. In late spring, the pseudostem is topped with a brownish purple pitcher with a hood that drapes like a rigid whip over the front. The light brown pencil like spadix barely peeks out from the center of the pitcher...probably cowering from the whip. Some forms have all green leaves, while others have a wide central silver stripe down the middle of each leaflet. (Hardiness Zone 5b-8)
Arisaema maximowiczii from the Kyushu Mountains of Japan is the namesake of the 19th century Russian botanist, Carl Johann Maximowicz. Arisaema maximowiczii is an elegant cobra lily with a 2' tall dark purple base pseudostem. Each plant bears a ten leaflet leaf to the side of the main stem. The hood (spathe) is green or purple and white striped and ends as a long thread hanging over the pitcher which houses the matching green or purple spadix (sex organ). (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Arisaema ovale is the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese Arisaema amurense. Arisaema ovale is hard to distinguish from Arisaema amurense, except that it often has 2 leaves instead of one for Arisaema amurense. Arisaema ovale also has narrower leaflets and a narrower spathe that Arisaema amurense (P. Bruggeman - personal communication) (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema ringens in one of the most commonly grown of the cobra lilies. Recent DNA work puts Arisaema ringens in the same section as the plants listed above, which seems odd, since it looks quite different. Although the leaves and inflorescence superficially resembles plants in the Section Franchetiana, those plants do not possess a pseudostem like Arisaema ringens. My hope is that future DNA studies will put this in a more appropriate section. The Japanese, Korean, and Taiwan forms of Arisaema ringens occur in very low areas in densely shaded woods. I was fortunate to find this fast-offsetting species on my 1997 Korean expedition and later on my 2008 Taiwan expedition. Sitting above the pseudostem which holds the two giant, glossy green, trifoliate leaves is the spectacular cobra like inflorescence, resembling Arisaema galeatum or Arisaema griffithii. The thick purple and white (or occasionally green and white) striped spathe resembles a perfectly formed cobra head as the tip of the spathe curls downward, revealing the glossy purple interior and two "cobra eyes." Arisaema ringens is very early to emerge in spring, and should be protected when a late frost is imminent. Conversely, the seed are the last to ripen, often 2-3 months after the foliage has died away (around Christmas). (Hardiness Zone 5-9)
Arisaema ringens 'Black Mamba' is a particularly nice vegetatively propagated form that we named and introduced with dark purple pseudostems, complementing the dark purple and white striped spathe. (Hardiness Zone 5-9)
Arisaema sazensoo is a rare Japanese cobra lily closely allied to Arisaema sikokianum...yet very different and from a different region, Kyushu, Japan. The two 5 leaflet leaves are held atop 12" pseudostems. The inflorescense, which emerges on a short peduncle (stalk) between the leaves, resembles Arisaema sikokianum except for a narrower spadix and a greatly elongated spathe tip that cascades over the front of the large pitcher. Arisaema sazensoo is a non offsetting species, so plant several unless you're into horticultural celibacy. (Hardiness Zone 6b-9)
Arisaema serratum is a widespread and easy to grow species from China, Japan, and Korea. Because Arisaema serratum is a group of plants in the midst of speciation (becoming several species) it has become caught in a tug of war between the taxonomic lumpers and splitters regarding what constitutes a true species. Some taxonomists divide Arisaema serratum into species such as Arisaema takadae, Arisaema mayebarae, Arisaema peninsulae (takesimense), and what we previously knew as Arisaema serratum, while other lump them all together as one species. The 12-36" tall pseudostems (often tinted purple) are adorned with two leaves, each with 7-17 leaflets. In mid to late April, the pseudostems are topped with an attractive pitcher...often purple in color. This is a very easy to grow species that offsets slowly. Well drained soils are important for long term viability.
Arisaema serratum var. serratum (aka: Arisaema peninsulae/takesimense) is a very tall form of Arisaema serratum that we saw growing in Korea, primarily on Uulong Island. The typical plants here ranged from 2-3' tall with terminal inflorescences ranging from green with white stripes to purple with white stripes. This is a very easy-to-grow slowly-offsetting species. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema serratum var. serratum 'Uulong Treasure' (Arisaema peninsulae/takesimense) All I could do was stare when I saw this gem in the extinct crater that is Korea's Ulleung (aka Uulong) Island. We had seen lots of silver centered arisaema during our hike, but none like this. The 3' tall pseudostem was jet black, the wide 12 leaflet leaves were mostly silver with a band of green around the edge, and the dramatic black striped inflorescence was held just above the foliage...true perfection! Thanks to tissue culture, this slowly- offsetting clone is now commercially available. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema mayebarae (aka Arisaema serratum var. mayebarae) is an amazing variety of the Japanese Arisaema serratum from the region south of Kyushu. Unlike other varieties of Arisaema serratum, var. mayebarae flowers much earlier and has a longer spathe blade. The very dark purple black spathe, which opens before the foliage unfurls, is quite stunning. These easy to grow, 3' tall arisaemas make a stately stunning statement in the garden. (Hardiness Zone 5b-8)
Arisaema sikokianum is now a reportedly extinct Japanese native and truly one of the most popular plant imports from Japan for a reason. The 18" tall pseudostem is clothed by two pedate leaves, which can be either solid green or highlighted with central silver blotches. Atop the pseudostem is a stunning black-purple pitcher contrasting dramatically with the club-like white spadix. Arisaema sikokianum is one of the few arisaema species which never offsets. I remember the 1970's $100 price tag, that left me with the feeling that I would never be able to own one of these gems. Despite Arisaema sikokianum being virtually extinct in its native haunt on Shikoku Island, Japan, the abundance of imports and seed producing plants have brought the price into a more affordable range. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Arisaema yamatense is a tall species from Honshu, Japan that possesses a striking purple and white patterned 3'+ pseudostem. The inflorescence is held just above the two leaves near the top of the stalk. The pitcher and spadix are both green with white stripes, while the inside of the spathe is a nice contrasting white. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema Section Sinarisaema - Radial Leaf Species
The Sinarisaema section consists of species with radial leaflets, like the spokes of a wheel, which are horizontally attached to the pseudostem at a central point of the leaf.
Arisaema barnesii is a little-cultivated South Indian species that has performed very well. For us, it has never exceeded 1' in height, with the pseudostem topped with a 5-leaflet radial leaf. The inflorescence appears for us in mid-June. The green and white striped pitcher has an attractive white back like Arisaema album, along with a long green spathe tip. (Hardiness Zone 7b-8, at least)
Arisaema consanguineum is the most common Asian jack-in-the-pulpit, being found throughout much of China as well as into India, Thailand, and Taiwan. We saw Arisaema consanguineum growing in tropical lowlands as well as near 15,000 in the alpine regions near Tibet. Arisaema consanguineum is quite variable, ranging from wide ruffled to straight and narrow leaflets atop pseudostems that can reach between 2' and 5' in height. Some highly prized clones have a lovely silver central band down each leaflet. The other interesting trait is the length of the leaf drip tips. In order to shed excess moisture, some of the leaves end with a narrow thread which can reach several inches long. This is also a variable trait between clones. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
The inflorescences of Arisaema consanguineum, which emerge on the pseudostem below the leaves, come in both green and purple striped forms. The inflorescences are actually similar to Arisaema triphyllum, except that the spathe (pitcher) tip ends as a thread, often quite long. This is a very easy-to-grow, fast-offsetting species that prefers good drainage for best results. Another unique feature of Arisaema consanguineum is emergence times. Some forms of Arisaema consanguineum emerge and flower in May, while others may not appear above ground until August. Interestingly, this has no relation to the elevation at which the plant grows naturally. We find that while Arisaema consanguineum grows in shade, it is much happier when grown in a spot that receives several hours of sun. Arisaema consanguineum is thoroughly confused with the Nepalese Arisaema erubescens, which does not occur in China. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema consanguineum 'The Perfect Wave' is a 2004 Ellen Hornig selection with very attractive wide wavy glaucous-blue leaves atop a 4' tall pseudostem. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema consanguineum 'Poseidon' is a 2004 Ellen Hornig selection with stunning silver centered leaves atop a 4.5' tall pseudostem. The silver-centered leaf trait is found in the wild, although it is not extremely plentiful. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema consanguineum 'Siren's Song' is an Ellen Horning selection that makes a 4' tall plant, topped with wide wavy leaflets, also with a wide silver center. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema ciliatum hails from Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in China. Arisaema ciliatum has a similar leaf to Arisaema consanguineum, made up of many narrow leaflets that radiate out from a central axis, like the underside of an umbrella, perched atop a 2' tall pseudostem. Sitting below this radiating leaf, is the inflorescence. The glossy spathe hood is typically purple brown to maroon with vanilla cream striping. The greenish spadix is sometimes washed in purple and sometimes drenched in purple. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema concinnum is another very similar Himalayan species to Arisaema consanguineum. The green pseudostems emerge in late May or early June in NC and rise to 2-3'. Atop each pseudostem sits one leaf, divided into 7-13 long leaflets. The inflorescence emerges at nearly the same time with a dark purple and white striped pitcher and an extended, threadlike tip. Inside the pitcher, you will find the "preacher" tucked in neatly out of the weather. This is a stoloniferous species that will make a nice clump after a few seasons. (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Arisaema exappendiculatum is a quirky arisaema from Nepal and Tibet. The name "exappendiculatum" means 'without a male appendage'. It's still unclear if these were removed by area governments as a means of population control, but I digress. In growth habit, it is similar to Arisaema concinnum (slightly stoloniferous) with the wonderful whorled umbrella foliage atop 2' tall pseudostems. For us, A. exappendiculatum flowers in May with a nearly closed erect spathe...obviously embarrassed because it doesn't have a spadix appendix. (Hardiness Zone 7-8, probably much colder)
Arisaema formosanum is a Taiwanese species that is very similar to Arisaema consanguineum, although. the plants that we saw in Taiwan were much less robust than Arisaema consanguineum, having narrower leaflets, a narrower pseudostem, and a narrower spathe. As with Arisaema consanguineum, the spathe color can range from green and white to purple and white. (Hardiness Zone 7b-9)
Arisaema muratae is a rare and previously unknown species from woodland streamsides in Western Yunnan at 6,000' elevation. It was originally imported into the US as Arisaema concinuum yellow, but was later published as a new species in 2007, named after Japanese arisaema taxonomist, Jin Murata. The thick green pseudostems emerge in early May from enormous fist shaped tubers. Like spokes on a wheel, each of the 7-13 deeply veined leaflets is held atop a 30" tall pseudostem. The inflorescence emerges as the plant unfurls, a yellow pitcher with purple stripes at the base topped with an extended bright yellow threadlike tip. Inside the pitcher, you find the purple "preacher" tucked in neatly out of the weather. This is an easy to grow, slowly offsetting species. (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Arisaema taiwanense is a stunning cobra lily from Taiwan that emerges in spring as a thick, 30" tall, snakeskin colored pseudostem...light green with dark black blotches. Atop the pseudostem sits a perfectly radial leaf, with 12" - 18" long leaflets emerging like spokes on a wheel, each ending as a drooping thread. The inflorescence emerges from the psedostem well below the terminal leaf, to form a giant grim reaper like black purple hood with a long threadlike tongue emerging from the front...bizarrely wonderful. This was first collected and introduced to cultivation by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn Jones with Dan Hinkley (Hardiness Zone 6b-9a)
Arisaema taiwanense 'Silver Heron' is a unique form of Arisaema taiwanense that was brought into cultivation by Crug Farms and Heronswood Nursery in 1997. When I botanized Taiwan in 2008, I noticed that throughout a few wild populations, there were similar isolated individuals with pewter leaves instead of the typical green. These pewter leaf plants, whose leaves emerge green in spring, make stunning garden specimens with their giant radial leaves atop the 30" tall snakeskin patterned pseudostems. The macabre, black striped hooded inflorescence emerges alongside the new leaves. The new leaves emerge green but quickly change to pewter, so don't panic. This clone was named by plantsman Hans Hansen and propagated via tissue culture. (Hardiness Zone 6b-9a)
Arisaema Section Tortuosa - long tongue (spadix) species
Like Section Flagellarisaema, Section Tortuosa is composed of plants that have inflorescences that have long extended spadices atop pseudostems. The North American Arisaema dracontium and Arisaema macrospathum belong in this section.
Arisaema heterophyllum is an easy to grow species, whose native range includes China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and even Hong Kong. Like our native Arisaema dracontium, which it resembles, Arisaema heterophyllum is a riparian species, prefering consistently moist soils, often found in floodplains. Atop the giant 3' pseudostem in late spring is a green and purple tinged spathe with a 12" long tongue that curves out of the pitcher and stands straight up...really kinky! The horseshoe shaped leaf held on the pseudostem just below the inflorescence boasts over a dozen leaflets...spectacular! Like Arisaema tortuosum, Arisaema heterophyllum inflorescences have both sexes and therefore sets seed easily. Most clones of Arisamea heterophyllum are slow to offset. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Arisaema heterophyllum 'Baguo' is a unique form of Arisaema heterophyllum discovered near the Bagou Monastery on China's famed Mt. Emei. This form has a larger number of leaflets (up to 23) than the typical forms. For us, this form also has much more black coloration in the pseudostems, which we never see in typical Arisaema heterophyllum. Additionally, the spadix has much less of a dramatic bend compared to the normal form. (Hardiness Zone 6-8, at least)
Arisaema tortuosum is one of the true conversation pieces of the aroid world. The thick, 4'-6' tall, fleshy pseudostem (stalk) emerges in early June, adorned by two-three tropical looking, palmate green leaves near the top. As the leaves unfurl, the pitcher that tops the pseudostem opens to reveal a green Jack in the pulpit spathe, but with a whip like tongue that extends from the mouth of the spathe upwards to 12" or more. Arisaema tortuosum is usually a non-offsetting species, but because it's one of the few species with monecious inflorescences (male and female parts come on the same stalk), it sets good crops of seed without cross pollination. (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Arisaema hybrids are occasionally found in the wild, but few of these show up in gardens. Arisaemas are occasionally bred by collectors, but again, only a handful of hybrids ever make it to market. The first one to become popular among collections was a Don Jacbos hybrid of Arisaema serratum (takadae) x Arisaema sikokianum, that Don sold as Arisaema 'Eco Tak'. This seed strain consisted of some plants with solid green leaves, while others had silver centers. The plant is nicely intermediate between both parents.
We have just begun propagation of one of our hybrids, a cross of Arisaema fargesii x Arisaema heterophyllum, that we named Arisaema 'Crossing Over'. It is most unusual to be able to make a cross between species that are in such distantly related Arisaema sections. The offspring are intermediate between the two parents, with a fully open black and white spathe and an upturned spadix. It is our hope that tissue culture will allow this to be made widely available in the future.
Charles Oliver of the Primrose Path Nursery is also breeding arisaema. His most recent cross of Arisaema sazensoo and Arisaema triphyllum is a nice mix of the best traits of both species.
There is also a vigorous clone of Arisaema ovale x Arisaema serratum, which seems to be slowly being shared. This plant offsets well and has very nice purple-spathe inflorescences.
How to propagate Arisaema
Arisaemas can either be propagated from seed, offsets, or by cuttings, although seed is most prevalent. As mentioned earlier, you will need either a monocious species (male and female on the same plant) or a diocious species that is producing both male and female flowers to be sure to get seed. Most seed ripen from early fall to late winter, depending on the species. Typically a red coloration is an indication of ripe seed, although many species can be picked green if the entire seed head is harvested. These seed will usually ripen indoors if the developing embryo are already well developed.
After the seeds are harvested, they should be cleaned first (the pulp contains a germination inhibitor). The easiest way to clean arisaema seed is to put the ripe seed into a ziploc bag and "squish" the pulp from the seed. Important safety tip...the oxalic acid from the sap of the fruit can cause severe skin irritation and numbness, so wear plastic gloves. After adequate squishing has been complete, pour the mess into a cup of water. Decant the pulp several times, and you will quickly have a cup of clean seed.
Arisaema seed can be planted in a container of potting soil indoors immediately after cleaning. The seed should be covered lightly with potting soil. Arisaema seed will usually sprout within 4-6 weeks and will proceed to grow for up to 2-4 months. At this time, they will appear to slowly turn yellow and die. Fear not, for they are only going dormant. Some species have the strange habit of going directly from seed to small corms, known as protocorms.(P. Bruggeman - personal communication). These protocorms don't produce foliage until after dormancy. When dormant, arisaemas in containers must not be kept wet...this is certain death for most species. I keep my plants in containers and water only when the soil gets bone dry...about twice a month.
These arisaema seedlings can like this until winter or planted immediately in prepared ground beds. After a cold period, they will again resprout. Some of the warmer growing species will actually resprout during the summer and put on an extra growth cycle (especially Arisaema consanguineum). To squeeze out an extra season, the dormant plants can be refrigerated for 3 months during the spring/summer. This can be accomplished in the container (if your refrigerator and spouse will allow) or by placing the tubers in a ziploc bag of slightly moist peat (easier to store in the refrigerator). After this time, they will resprout and can often be forced into two seasons of growth during a calender year.
From seed, expect it to take 2-4 years to have a flowering size plant...depending on species. Some species such as Arisaema franchetianum, Arisaema candidissimum, Arisaema ringens, Arisaema tortuosum, and Arisaema taiwanense get quite large from seed during the first growing season. Others such as Arisaema sikokianum remain much smaller after the same period.
The other extremes are species like Arisaema elephas, which only sends out a root during the first season. Only after a dormancy period will the new leaf emerge. This could have been easily predicted due to the tiny size of the seed in this species, as compared to the relatively large seed size of those mentioned above.
While seed can be a challenge for some gardeners, division of offsets is much easier...provided your arisaema produces offsets. Some arisaemas are solitary like Arisaema sikokianum, while others offset freely like Arisaema ringens. Arisaema species that multiply well from offsets include Arisaema amurense, Arisaema candidissimum, Arisaema concinnum, Arisaema consanguineum, Arisaema exappendiculatum, Arisaema fargesii, Arisaema franchetianum, Arisaema kiusianum, Arisaema saxatile, and Arisaema thunbergii. The small offset bulbs/runners can be snapped off and replanted. While some gardeners like to wait until fall to divide their arisaemas, I have found that it works equally as well to move and divide arisaemas when they are in full flower.
Tissue culture was a difficult nut to crack with arisaema, complicated by their complex dormancy patterns and difficulty of sterilization. Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens in Michigan was the first person to commercially propagate arisaemas from tissue culture.
We have done some inital work with arisaema from cuttings. In our limited trials, we have had success with both leaf and petiole cuttings with some of the tropical species. More work needs to be done, but we expect arisaemas to be similar to amorphophallus in their ability to be rooted from leaf cuttings.
How to Grow Arisaema
Most arisaema grow fine in a typical garden soil. There are a few notable exceptions, such as the native Arisaema triphyllum, which prefers a slightly moist soil, and many of the Himalayan species, whose roots continue to grow and need a well-drained soil with moisture below.
Checkout the time lapse from 2017 of the emergence of both leaves and inflorescences of Arisaema ringens at Juniper Level Botanic Garden over the course of about 5 days.
Fortunately, diseases that affect arisaema are rare. The main problem of arisaema in the US is a rust fungus (Uromyces ari triphylli). The fungus appears on the underside of the foliage and is evident as small orange dots as the foliage unfurls. There is little that can be done, except to cut the plant off at the tuber and discard the top. The arisaema will not re-appear until the next year. While some folks discard the entire tuber, we have not found this necessary. Occasionally arisaema rust can be seen in the wild, usually on Arisaema triphyllum.
Arisaema are susceptible to a few virus, although we have personally never observed this. Infected plants will show leaves with mottled yellow/white veining. In the case of infection, the plant should be discarded, since this cannot be cured. Virus are usually spread only by insects or non-sterilized tools, so avoid both. Arisaemas grown in poorly aerated soil are subject to fungal rot. Damaged tubers, either by a fungal rot or by physical damage may then be subject to infection by a smelly bacterial soft rot, but this rot is almost never a primary pathogen. Overall, arisaema are very carefree plants, when planted in the proper site.
For more information on Arisaema, we suggest reading:
The Genus Arisaema, A Monograph for Botanists and Nature Lovers by Guy and Liliane Gusman (A.R.G Gantner Verlag K.G. 2006)
Aroids by Deni Bown (Timber Press 2000)
Himalayan Cobra Lilies by Pradhan (Primulaceae Books 1990)