Arum italicum is a plant of relatively fertile soils found in woods and hedges. Being a deep rooting plant it is prone to water logging so tends to be confined to moist but well draining soils. It can be found growing wild in a few places along the southern coast of England and is common in Ireland nestled amongst ferns in shaded banks.
It is a member the plant family Araceae. It is one of two species of Arum native to Britain, the other being Arum maculatum. Both species are known as Cuckoo Pint, or just simply Lords-and-Ladies.
When temperatures dip below freezing the leaves curl up, unfolding as the weather warms again. The smart glossy arrow-shaped leaves are attractively patterned and arrow shaped.
As spring approaches and the weather warms, unusual creamy-white spathes (flowers) up to 40cm (16in) in length emerge. As the flowers mature the leaves start to die back.
In May to June the flowers leave a tall stalk with large green berries and as these mature they turn bright orange-scarlet in colour.
After the seeds ripen, they fall to the ground or are eaten by birds, the plant then starts to send up new leaves to start the cycle over again. The leaves emerging from the ground in September to October and by early November the plant is full again. The plant stays lush right throughout winter, thriving in cold weather.
Extremely useful for shady spots or woodland planting. In mild climates a common use of Arum italicum is underplanting hosta. When foliage of hosta dies down in fall, the foliage of Arum replaces it, warning the gardener away from digging up the then hard-to-see crowns of hosta. In summer, the Arum foliage disappears and is replaced by stalks of orange seeds that appear to be coming from the hosta, adding an extra color dimension to the otherwise green ground-cover.
Awarded the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Seeds can be sown directly into soil in autumn or can be Winter Sown in vented containers, cold frame or unheated greenhouse.
Sow seeds in peaty compost 1/8th inch deep. Seeds may take from 30 to 180 days to germinate. Check them regularly and pot on in the spring.
The term “Winter Sowing” is simply where seed is sown into a pot or tray before winter, and place it in a sheltered part of the garden, exposed to the elements. The seed trays then have the benefits of the chill and thaw that it would naturally. Grit can be used to protect the seed and surface of the soil.
Once established, clumps should be divided after flowering in late summer
Wildflower gardens, Woodland and shade gardens, Under-planting of hostas etc.
When we were children, and were out walking in the woods, we were told that these were ”Never Wake Up Berries”!
All parts are highly toxic by ingestion and a skin and eye irritant. Though the orange berries are quite attractive, their acrid taste and the tingling in the mouth which begins quite quickly, mean that large amounts are rarely ingested and serious harm is unusual.
Cuckoo-pint has a cunning plan for fertilisation. In spring it produces an inflorescence with a pale cream hood and a round spike. The spike gives off an unpleasant smell of rotting meat, which attracts small flies and beetles. In their haste to get at the meat, the insects fall down the slippery sides of the hood to the bottom, where they are trapped by a ring of hairs.
Unlike a pitcher plant, they don't get eaten, but are held to ransom until they do a specific job. Trapped in the bottom, where the male and female flowers are located, they first pollinate the female flowers with any existing pollen, and the next day they get thoroughly doused by pollen produced by the male flowers. Then the hairs wither and the insects can escape to visit another plant. The hood and spike wither away shortly afterwards, leaving a stalked head of berries which turn scarlet.
Arum is taken from the Greek word ‘aron’ which is variously described as meaning ‘climbing’ or ‘poisonous plant’.
The species name italicum simply means ‘of’ or ‘from Italy’ and the plant is said to be a native of southern Europe. It is not clear, however, whether the plant was named as coming from Italy or because the pattern on the leaves was thought to be like Italian marble.
Arum italicum is also known as the cuckoo pint in the British Isles (‘pint’ is pronounced to rhyme with Mint) and is named thus in Nicholas Culpepers' famous 16th Century herbal. This is a name it shares with Arum maculatum, another native British Arum.
The synonym 'pictum' means painted and refers to the leaf markings.
Because of the shape of the inflorescence, it has several alternative names, such as Lords-and-Ladies, adder's meat, bulls and cows, dogs' cocks, preacher-in-the-pulpit, wake robin, kitty-come-down-the-lane-jump-up-and-kiss-me.
In Elizabethan times, the starch from the root was used to stiffen linen, especially ruffs, hence it was also known as starchwort.
The prudish Victorians omitted it from their flower guides due to its suggestive shape.
Arum italicum ia a member of, what is commonly known as the Arum family, Araceae are a family of monocotyledonous flowering plants in which flowers are borne on a type of inflorescence called a spadix.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Family Araceae Genus Arum Species Italicum Cultivar subsp. italicum Synonym Arum italicum 'Pictum' Common Name Italian Arum, Lords & Ladies
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Language Names IR. Cluas chaoin Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Creamy-white spathes (flowers) up to 40cm (16in) in length Natural Flower Time Late Summer Fruit Scarlet, fleshy berries, each 12mm (½in) across, arranged in dense spikes 30cm (12in) long. Foliage Attractively patterned (pictum means painted) arrow shaped leaves. Semi-Evergreen Height 30 to 45 cm (12 to 18 in) Spacing 30 to 38 cm (12 to 15 in) Position Light Shade to Full Shade Time to Sow Late winter/late spring or late summer/autumn.