Friday, May 29, 2009

The Amazing Woodland Jack in the Pulpit and Garden Flowers

It was dark and stormy last night. Here there was at least an inch of much needed rain. It was surprising to see how dry the ground became after nearly week of temperatures in the eighties and high seventies. In general though, the spring weather was cool and not even the peas did very well but they are coming along nicely now.
The woods are a great place to be; many native wild flowers are blooming. Sure the fall colors get a lot of attention and rightfully so; but there is nothing equal to walk in the woods in the spring. Jack in the Pulpit plants are a favorite. Every spring I seem to find new colonies as I look for the ones I have always seen.
The unusual plants prefer deep shade, rich, loamy and moist soil and here seem to grow best under or around the beechnut trees. I guess the plant is edible but I'd be hesitant to try. Calcium oxate crystals are present in the plant and can cause a nasty, foul burning sensation. I know because I mistakenly tasted one when I was younger. The root, if properly cooked, can be eaten as a vegetable. There is also some indication the Jack in the Pulpit plant had some medicinal uses for Native Americans and the early settlers. I think it is a good idea to just admire this unusual plant or to get an aspirin.
This amazing plant can change it's sex every year depending on it's nutrient intake. One year it can be a male, the following year a female. The majority of flowers have both female and male flowers.
The Jack in the Pulpit flowers are found deep inside the spadix are pollinated by tiny insects which get fooled when they get inside the tube. It is a fascinating story about a woodland, perennial herb native to most of eastern North America.
While it is best to not eat and just admire the Jack in the Pulpit, there are flowers which can be safely eaten and grown in the vegetable garden. Nasturtiums are one. The colorful flowers, leaves, seeds and stem can be used in cooking and have a distinct peppery flavor. They are high in vitamin C and there is some indications that they can ward off infections with an ingredient which mimics penicillin. This colorful plant is a good addition to the vegetable garden since it attracts many good pollinators.
Other edible plants which can be used in the garden and the kitchen include: marigolds, chrysanthemums, carnations, day lilies, pansies and squash blooms are just a few. Borage is also a good flowering herb which has many culinary purposes as well as a benefit to the bees. Although Borage is listed as an annual, it readily reseeds itself and grows where ever the next year.
While a vegetable garden is a lot about tomatoes, broccoli and peppers, there are also some tasty flowers, which also benefit the pollinators and add color to the drama, much like the exotic Jack in the Pulpit in the shady woods. For more gardening information, please click on the title. Some of the other Blogs which I follow and you may want to visit are Kathleen Richardson at On My Way to to the Top and Dan at Urban Veggie Garden. Thanks.

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