Veterinary Medicine Library

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema spp.)

| Description | Distribution | Conditions of poisoning | Control | Toxic principle | Clinical signs | References


Jack-in-the-pulpit is a stemless plant, 8 inches to 2 feet tall, that grows in the woods. It has one or two long-stalked, 3-parted leaves; and at the tip of its flowerstalk, which is not quite as long as the leaves, it has a peculiar flowering structure, tinted shades of green, greenish-white, and purple.

The leaves and flower stalks rise from an underground, perennial corm, hard and turnip-shaped. The fruit is a mass of brilliant red or scarlet berries, each containing 1 to 5 seeds.

Jack-in-the-pulpit shoots (late spring) Mature fruit of the Jack-in-the-pulpit
Emerging Jack-in-the pulpit           Mature Fruit


Jack-in-the-pulpit is common to abundant throughout Illinois in open and dense, moist woods and may be seen also in woods clearings and occasionally in pastures and at the edges of pastures that were formerly woodland. Though commonly regarded as an early spring plant, it persists through the growing season and is conspicuous in late summer and fall by its dense clusters of red berries.

Conditions of poisoning

Animals, if grazed in wooded pastures in early spring when other forage is not available, may eat the root of this plant. Susceptible species are cattle, sheep, goats and swine.



Cattle should not be grazed in wooded pastures at any time when jack-in-the-pulpit is one of the few green plants available. Although there is no satisfactory way of eradicating it, its numbers will be considerably lessened if it is consistently dug when seen .

Toxic principle

The corms of the plant contain an unidentified volatile acrid principle, calcium oxalate crystals, and possibly an alkaloid. The corms are gathered, dried, and sold by drug collectors.

Clinical signs

Cattle, sheep, goats, and swine are susceptible to this poisoning, but they seldom eat enough of the plant to cause trouble. The corms would doubtless affect any animal that ate them. Eating the corms causes an intense burning and biting sensation in the mouth, throat, and stomach; large doses may cause inflammation of the stomach and intestine. Affected animals show evidence of colic, and they attempt to cool the mouth and throat with water.

Other References:

Jack in the Pulpit entry in Wikipedia

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