Lords and Ladies or Cuckoo Pint - Arum maculatum is a poisonous plant
Cuckoo Pint - Arum maculatum, click for a larger photo
Click for a larger photo

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Lords & Ladies - Arum maculatum
Also known as - Cuckoo Pint, Friar's Cowl, Adder's Root

This plant is poisonous.

A hardy native European perennial of the Araceae family (of nearly 1000 species), common in England and Wales but rarer in Scotland and Ireland.  Found in woods and hedgerows it grows in deep shade to a height of 50cm (19in), occasionally grown as a house plant.  The name Lords & Ladies and other gender related names refer to the plants likeness to male ♂ and female ♀ genitalia symbolising copulation.  Upward pointing, arrowhead shaped, dark green glossy leaves with some plants having a dark brown or black spotty marking, they grow from a tuberous root system.  The leaves are one of the first plants to appear in the spring and are a bright glossy green darkening with age.  Appear during April and May, the primitive flowers are found inside a light yellow/green cowl (Spathe) surrounding a dark brown rod shaped central stem (Spadix) bearing both male and female parts at it's base.

The lowest set of flowers in the Spathe mature to a cluster of attractive but poisonous red berries in July and August, these berries remain on the plant for some time, long after the leaves have gone.  All parts of the plant are poisonous with the following symptoms - burning and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat if eaten, - skin irritation and stomach pains, dizziness, cramps, vomiting & heart failure after eating the berries.  Toxic constituents are calcium oxalate crystals and soluble oxalates, and can lead to death if enough of the plant is eaten or no medical aid is sought.  Roots of the Arum are roughly oblong and resemble potato, brownish in colour, white inside exuding a milky sap, producing a burning sensation in the mouth if eaten.  A related plant, the Large Cuckoo Pint (Arum italicum), which only grows on the South coast and the Channel Isles do not have the occasional dark spotting.  They have a similar coloured flower but with a yellow spadix, appear slightly later during April to June, maturing to the same cluster of poisonous red berries.

Arum starch was used for stiffening ruffs in Elizabethan times, from where it derives the name Starchwort.  In France a starch made from the roots was used as a cosmetic for the skin, and was reputed to have been used in Italy to remove freckles from the face and hands.  The roots, according to Gilbert White, are scratched up and eaten by thrushes in severe snowy seasons, and the berries are devoured by several kinds of birds, particularly pheasants.

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