Arum maculatum is a favourite of mine because its story involves two of the key topics concerning poisonous plants (well, all plants really for the first topic).
It has a multitude of common names but almost all of them have sexual connotations and, for that reason, it can also tell us a lot about past societies. Lords and ladies is one of the most often used names and that is based on the similarity between the spadix and the male penis and the spathe and the female vagina. In Victorian times, such imagery was unacceptable so an attempt was made to rewrite history by calling the plant our lord and our lady and claiming that the spadix was the baby Jesus with the spathe being his mother’s cloak wrapped around to protect him.
There was also satire in some of the names. Priest’s pintle not only compared the spadix to an erect pintle but satirised the priest’s domination of society based on the size of that organ. In this name, the spathe becomes the sort of enclosed pulpit often found to protect the priest whilst leaving the congregation out in the cold draughty body of the church.
The second point of interest is that it gives a very clear demonstration of the importance of taste in limiting the harm done by poisonous plants.
Those two together explain why I decided it should be the subject of the latest ‘Poisonous plants 1-2-1’ video.
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