No. 16 in a Series of 253,486.

JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT (Arisaema triphyllum).—Of all the woodland wildflowers of the spring, this is probably the oddest. There are parasitic plants, and even carnivorous plants, but the Jack-in-the-Pulpit is surely our only homiletical plant.

The Jack-in-the-Pulpit grows in rich open woodlands. In the spring, before the leaves are fully expanded, a curious flower emerges, consisting of a spadix (the “Jack” of the name) enclosed in a spathe with an arching top, like the sounding-board of an eighteenth-century pulpit. At once the spadix begins to preach long and elaborate sermons on trivial and abbreviated texts from Scripture, to which the other plants of the forest listen with forced attention.

It may be asked why there should be such a plant: to what possible evolutionary advantage it could be that a member of the vegetable kingdom should expend its energy on windy sermons so early in the season, and then, worn out by the exertion, vanish from the face of the earth, but for the stalk of bright red fruit it leaves behind. Indeed, some polemical botanists have pointed to Arisaema triphyllum as evidence of intelligent design; the argument, however, must be rejected, as the most competent theologico-botanical observers have found very little intelligence in the preaching of the spadix, rating it no higher than the more indifferent class of Presbyterian ministers.

Evolution is, however, a complex science, and depends not only on the form and habits of the individual organism, but also on the inextricable web of relationships it shares with the organisms around it. Long-winded sermons appear to cost the spadix great effort, and thus convince the rest of the vegetable kingdom that it owes the Jack-in-the-Pulpit a living (1 Timothy 5:18). In this way we may consider the Jack-in-the-Pulpit a parasite at one remove; a plant that taps, not into the sap, but into the goodwill of its neighbors, manipulating their better natures for its own gain. As it requires a rich soil, in which generations of plants have sacrificed their leaves to the natural processes of decay, and an open woods, in which the plants surrounding it are not too greedy about absorbing all the sunlight for themselves, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit depends on the plants around it to create the conditions in which it can thrive.

Astrologically speaking, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit is governed by a general assembly with a moderator elected for a two-year term.