Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Lords and Ladies

                                            Arum italicum in my garden

Here and there around Byfield, particularly in hedgerows, the scarlet berries of Lords and Ladies Arum maculatum are now to be seen. In many local gardens, including mine, its close relative Arum italicum is frequent. It can be distinguished by its orange - rather than red - berries and pale leaf veins.

The plant has the reputation of being poisonous and many cases are reported from A and E departments annually but in his monologue "Lords and Ladies" the late Cecil Prime could find no authenticated records of actual deaths. Nevertheless I don't plan to sample the fruit!

It has many old vernacular names - many of them earthy - usually referring to the ithyphallic shape of the spadix. One of the names, Cuckoo Pint, sounds innocuous enough but it rhymes with 'mint' and comes from the Old English word "pintle", meaning a penis. Inevitably John Clare refers to it:

         And hooded Arum early sprouting up,
         Unclos'd the Arum leaves, and turn into view
         The ear-like spindling flowers their cases burst
         Betinged with yellowish-white or lusty hue.

Our John wasn't perhaps the greatest of poets but he was a heck of a good naturalist!

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