While prowling after White Throated Sparrows in the Rattray Marsh this fall, my eye landed on some extremely bright crimson berries standing on a stalk above the dull brown leaf litter. Intrigued, I went over for a closer look, jumping over a moss-covered log to get there.
Are These Red Berries Really a Flowering Fungus?
At first I thought the glossy red lumps were some odd kind of flower or growth from a fungus or mushroom. The rather gross looking black spongy mass they were sticking out from looked like a rotten mushroom. I took several photos but then, distracted by a Brown Creeper, I left the plants behind to think about later.
Red Fruit But From What?
At home, I looked more closely at my photos on the computer. That’s when I realized the “stem” supporting the fruit was lightly green. So it seemed more likely that these were the fruit of a plant not a fungus.
I had trouble figuring out exactly which plant, though. I hadn’t seen any leaves. The bright red colour wasn’t unusual but the strange kernel shape was. The strange white marks like the suckers of an octopus on the black base were confusing.
It took a bit of poking around the internet to find the truth that seemed obvious once I knew: these are the fruit of Jack in the Pulpit flowers!
Once I realized that, all the pieces clicked together. The strange black part is the spadix, or Jack. The soft fleshy leaves including the spathe, or Pulpit, of the plant had wilted and disappeared like those of many spring ephemerals. The white sucker marks were left when a bird plucked off some of the seeds.
If you look at this spring-blooming Jack you can recognize the stem and the flower spadix that will eventually host the fruit.
And birds are to blame for me not recognizing these seeds. Although Jack in the Pulpit plants are fairly common in several local parks, the seeds must get eaten quickly because I’ve never actually seen them before. I don’t think mammals are to blame as the seeds contain toxic amounts of calcium oxalate crystals.
Another mystery solved!
Have you found these shiny red corn kernels on one of your rambles? Please share your experience with a comment.