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Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists

Jack or Jackie?

Posted by Maddy Kangas -

Have you ever tried to distinguish a male plant from a female one?

Take, for example, the Jack-in-the-pulpit. Later in the season, the females will be showing red berries. Right now, in early May, the plants all look the same.

The sexuality of Jack-in-the-pulpits is actually quite complicated. The plants are hermaphroditic, often exhibiting male and female flowers on the inside of the same plant. The samples I obtained from my own fledgling woodland garden, however, were easy to distinguish.

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Inside the Jack-in-the-pulpit, at the base of the "jack", there are rows of tiny flowers. Some of the flowers are male, some are female.

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On the left, above, is a jack with all male flowers. On the right, the flowers are all female. The female flowers, already the characteristic green color of the eventual unripened berries, had started to swell.

Fortunately, there are a few more jack-in-the-pulpits left growing in my garden. I look forward to watching them produce clusters of red berries in the late summer.

This article was inspired by Dick Robrock's March 22 article in the ECIMN Nature Journal. He tells much more about this fascinating plant in his excellent article, entitled "Jack-in-the-pulpit: a most mystical plant."

Another excellent resource is at

Mary Eppich

(MN 2015 intern)

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