The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 30, 2014

Into the woods, in search of 'Jack'

Showy Jack-in-the-pulpits also thrive in shade gardens

A trip to the park doesn’t have to feature swings and jungle gyms to entertain children. Encouraging them to train their eyes to discover the wonders of nature builds a lifelong skill which will enrich their lives.

In May, one of the strangest and most intriguing flowers to search for is the 1-foot-tall Jack-in-the-pulpit. It has a rod of tiny flowers enclosed in a tubular green to brown structure with a flap on top. The name refers to the pulpit with an overhang found in many historic churches; the minister, in this case, is Jack. Three broad leaves accompany the flowers, which are similar to the leaves on another showy spring flower, the trillium.

This exotic plant is fairly common in our southern Minnesota woodlands and ravines. In fall, the Jack-in-the-pulpit may produce a cluster of bright, red, fleshy seeds to reproduce itself. When you find a Jack, gently lift the overhang and you will get a closer look at the flowers and also view the striped underside of the overlap, which is very colorful.

This is an easy plant to include in your own shade garden if you can buy one at a local nursery. It transplants easily into humus-rich soil with enough moisture during the summer. Plant it with some of the compost you have produced from your vegetable and fruit discards. Jack-in-the-pulpits are good companion plants to the popular hostas. If allowed to go to seed, they will slowly multiply.

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