The Arisaema of Aberglasney Gardens

The bursary scheme requires students to complete a study of a genus that they find particularly interesting. This week’s blog is an abridged version of Francesca Miles’ study of Arisaema. 

Arisaema are usually tuberous perennials, grown for a distinctive looking spathe that conceals clusters of true flowers at its base. Many species produce only a single inflorescence, which is replaced in autumn by a spike of green-coloured berries that ripen bright red. A large, decorative leaf on a long, slender stalk emerges before or after the flower. 

Those with a fondness for tricky plants will recognise their similarity to the carnivorous Sarracenia, or pitcher plant. Arisaema’s hooded spathe performs the same functions as the Sarracenia’s pitched lid: sheltering the flowers from rain to prevent the wastage of pollen grain and trapping pollinating insects.

Former Head Gardener and Director Graham Rankin introduced several species of Arisaema to the gardens, and these are recorded in his 2009 publication The Flowering of Aberglasney. Rankin laments the fragility of this exotic-looking perennial, admitting to scolding visitors for walking on the cultivated beds where they were sited!

Generally thriving in similar conditions to Hostas and Rodgersias, Arisaema usually perform best when sheltered beneath a canopy of trees, benefitting from an annual supply of leaf mulch that protects them from drying out in summer and against extreme winter weather. Emerging spring foliage should be protected from frosts using dry leaves or biodegradable fleece. Loam soil will allow their roots to run deeply and help protect their tubers from winter rot.

So far this spring, two species have emerged in the waterfall bed behind the mansion. The first appears to be Arisaema speciosum: a single, trifoliate leaf with long, broad, deeply veined leaflets which emerges from a very attractive mottled leaf stem. This hangs above a hooded flower, from which the curling, elongated spadix that lends the plant the common name of cobra lily, projects. 

Its neighbour is more difficult to identify as its inflorescence has yet to emerge. A taller specimen, its curling palmate leaf and highly distinctive cream-coloured stem with purple-brown markings suggest Arisaema nepenthoides. I encourage you to join me in looking for emerging plants during the next month! 

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