I've a separate page for Arisaema triphyllum ssp triphyllum, the name "triphyllum" indicating that it produces leaves in sets of three. So it was quite a surprise when I spotted specimens from a local shadeplant grower offered as the subspecies A. t. pusillum, which have four or five leaves, as can be seen in this May (2003) photo.
This subspecies is sometimes distinguished as the "swamp pulpit." The leaves have been very sturdy, looking nice through hot days of July, & become increasingly serated as they mature & age. The regular A. t. triphyllums don't have these serrations.
I didn't get blooms this first year because I got the two specimens in the ground far too late in the season; the first photo from its first May in our garden shows only the unbrella serrated leaves.
I would have to wait until the following spring to see how much the flower varied from the regular Ameican jack-in-the-pulpit. The field guide described the pusillum floresence as a much more strongly fluted tube in comparison to other subspecies of A. triphyllum.
The second photo shows the flower in April (2004). The bloom was fatter & stubbier than triphyllum triphyllum. It is green with yellow-green stripes, & a pure green jack inside the pulpit, lacking the purple of our regular American pulpits. Nor does the triphyllum pusillum spathe bend at the top of the hood nearly as much, having much more of an upturned nose.
There doesn't seem to be a great deal of taxonimic agreement about how many subspecies or variants of A triphyullum there are in North America. The range of the species overall is so widespread across the continent that regional populations can be quite unique, without necessarily achieving subspecies status.
The most conservative estimate is that there are only four definitive subspecies in North America, which are: 1) A. t. tryphillum the Woodland Arisaema, Common Jack-in-the-Pulpit, or Indian Turnip; 2) A. t. pusillum the Swamp arisaema or Little Jack; 3) A. t. stewardsonii the Northern arisaema; & 4) A. t. quinatum. There are, however, additional variants that fall short of qualifying as subspecies. The only only one other arisaema native of North America is A. dracontium, the Green Dragon. In 1992 there was reported a naturally-occurring hybrid population in Massachusetts of jack in the pulpits that were believed to be A. triphyllum ssp stewardsonii x dracontium.
Addendum:After this page had been up for a year, I unexpectedly received a series of deeply interested queries about this plant from several people, who were led to the page by a link provided in a shade-plant discussion e-list. One soul even tried to convince me to dig one of them up & sell it to him, but I only have the two & they're much too young to attempt to divide.
Some who've written have expressed doubt that it could be A. triphyllum ssp pusillum at all, but is apt to be a small Asian species. Another thinks it could be an entirely new species or subspecies, but would need to know where the original was collected.
I hope that one or another of the queriers can sort it out, & I'll certainly help if I can. Until this barrage of queries came in, it never occurred to me that the grower could be selling something with the wrong name attached. Though misidentifications are common enough in the nursery trade, I'd been assuming there was indeed a multi-leafed strain of this usually three-leafed pulpit, just as there are rare four-leafed strains of trilliums. But at present everyone just seems puzzled or excited rather than certain of anything. I could end up having to correct the identification of this plant, if & when definitive information is forthcoming.
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