Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Arisaema--Cobra Lily

At the UC Botanical Garden, the Arisaemas are just now leafing out and coming into bloom. They are sometimes called cobra lilies. Most species grow in tropical climates, but one is native to the eastern US and is known as Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Indians ate the berries of that species, and also used the root for medicinal purposes. Another plant in the Araceae family, Philodendron, is used for a houseplant.

Yet another, Colocasia esculenta, also known as taro, is used for food. It is native to Asia and has been in cultivation for a long time, even though it is slightly toxic. The calcium oxalate crystals in the plant can burn the mouth and cause swelling for weeks, but cooking reduces the problem.

And of course, Calla Lilies are in the Araceae family. These easily grown, elegant, white flowers from South Africa are right at home in Berkeley. They seem to grow everywhere here, with no care. A few years ago we destroyed our Calla bed when we dug it all up to put in a French drain. I was appalled at the price of rhizomes, so I delayed buying new ones. Good thing! Within a couple of years, the Callas had zoomed back. Very dependable!

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