Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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by Wayne Pauly from Dane County Parks ACTION Adult Conservation Team Newsletter (All folklore stories)


Jack-in-the-pulpit 

Jack is probably the best known of all the woodland wildflowers, and readily grows in shady flower gardens.  I remember a folklore tour where a woman asked if anyone had ever heard Jack preach--she was serious.  She had us kneel down, put our ears next to the flower, and gently squeeze the sides of the “pulpit”.  The overlapping edges of the leaf in front quietly squeaked as the edges rubbed over each other—“that’s Jack’s high squeaky preaching voice” she said.

A century ago people used the name Indian turnip, while country boys called it memory root because of the cruel prank they played on new kids at school.  They offered the new boy a bite of their “turnip”.  The corm has calcium oxalate crystals which puncture the soft tissues of the mouth with an excruciating pain—never to be forgotten, hence “memory root”.  Native Americans destroyed the crystals by long drying or baking. 

Recently I learned that Jacks can change sex from one year to the next.  If at the end of a growing season the corm has stored lots of food, then the following year it produces two sets of leaves and female flowers, however, with less stored food, it produces one set of leaves and male flowers.  This explains why we see so many more of their red fruits in our savanna restorations after we clear the underbrush and thin out the trees to let in more light.  

 

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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