I know that Jack in the Pulpit is not the only living thing that changes genders in order to adapt to its circumstances, but I still think it is a cool enough fact to mention. The plant starts out male and if in time it finds its location accommodating and its nutrient supply adequate, it becomes female and produces fruit, beautiful red berries that pepper the forest floor throughout the summer. If over its lifetime it stumbles upon a lean year it will turn male again until conditions improve.

I found the plant’s ability to switch genders at will quite mind boggling, so I looked for pictures to learn how to tell the male and female flowers apart. The differences aren’t really that obvious. It is easier to note that the female flowers sprout on plants with two sets of leaves than to draw the conclusion from looking at the exotic looking blossoms themselves.

My curiosity about this plant’s unusual characteristic almost dulled my great excitement of seeing it in bloom in my back yard. For all those who say Jack in the Pulpit is easy to grow, I salute you and it’s not nice to brag. As a side note, I don’t think I ever read a how-to gardening guide that classified any plant as difficult to grow, so I’ll offer up my gardening wisdom, here’s one!

Like all woodland dwellers, it needs growing conditions that are near impossible to replicate in your average suburban garden: light and airy hummus soil that is both acidic and nutrient dense, loose but not quick draining because Jack in the Pulpit likes its feet wet. The location needs to receive a very precise mix of shade and sunlight to allow for flowers to develop but not scorch its foliage. The plants are slow growing but need lots of breathing room and if you’re lucky enough to have them stick around, whatever you do, don’t touch their roots!

This fortunate confluence of circumstances certainly didn’t happen in my back yard, so I can’t take credit for nature’s miracle because I’m not sure how it happened.

Why did I go through the trouble of cultivating a plant I didn’t think had a prayer to thrive? If I didn’t try, we wouldn’t be looking at this picture, right? After all these years of gardening I stopped trying to find reasons for my successes and failures, I just rejoice in the former, count my blessings and move on!

Author's Bio: 

Main Areas: Garden Writing; Sustainable Gardening; Homegrown Harvest
Published Books: “Terra Two”; “Generations”; "The Plant - A Steampunk Story"; "Letters to Lelia"; "Fair"; "Door Number Eight"
Career Focus: Author; Consummate Gardener;
Affiliation: All Year Garden; The Weekly Gardener; Francis Rosenfeld's Blog

I started blogging in 2010, to share the joy of growing all things green and the beauty of the garden through the seasons. Two garden blogs were born: allyeargarden.com and theweeklygardener.com, a periodical that followed it one year later. I wanted to assemble an informal compendium of the things I learned from my grandfather, wonderful books, educational websites, and my own experience, in the hope that other people might use it in their own gardening practice.