Here we are in the heart of fall planting season. As everyone else is out planting tulips and daffodils, perhaps you want to plant something a bit different. If you want something exquisite for the shade that is definitely different from all the other spring- blooming flowers, you need to check out Arisaema sikokianum, commonly known as Japanese cobra lily.
Arisaema sikokianaum is tuberous woodland perennial native to Japan. It is closely allied with the South Carolina native Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. While the native species is attractive in its own right, Arisaema sikokianum brings beauty to a whole new level. There are a few flowers that look to me exactly perfect and Arisaema sikokianum is one of them (other perfect ones are some orchids).
In spring, Arisaema sikokianum emerges from the ground revealing attractive, lobed leaves and a 1-foot-tall flower stalk. If there were ever a time that the adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" was applicable, the time is now. The exterior of the flower (called the spathe) is pitcher shaped with an elegant, pointed hood that stands erect over a purple/black tube. The hood has thin white stripes which run vertically. The interior of the flower (called the spadix) is a pure, lily-white, round appendage which looks as if it could double as a mothball. The white spadix contrasts in spectacular fashion against the purple spathe.
The flower is long-lasting, and as it fades it gives rise to a fruiting spike covered in red berries. Following flowering and fruiting, the plant will go dormant, only to emerge again in spring.
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Just for the trivia-minded folks, Arisaema sikokianum is in the same family (Araceae) as the common house plant called peace lily. You'll notice the similar flower structure in both plants and all members of the family Araceae.
Arisaema sikokianum performs best in moist, well-drained woodland type soil. It should be sited in a part-sun to part-shade location. This plant is great for shade gardens or as an accent planting under a tree. Seed and divisions are the best means of propagation.
You are unlikely to find Arisaema sikkokianum at your local garden center, but reputable mail order nurseries such as Plant Delights Nursery and Asiatica Nursery offer this species as well as many other terrific varieties. Expect to pay dearly for them, but an expensive plant is a worthy reward for a hardworking gardener (hint - great Christmas gift!).
Andy Cabe is the botanical garden director at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.