My home garden is in Monroe, Ohio. Officially in USDA hardiness zone 6a, we still, however briefly, have hit zone 5a lows in winters not to distantly past. The soil in my immediate vicinity is Eden silty clay. In many local developments, the good stuff has been scraped away and sold off as topsoil to some other poor schmuck who also had THEIR upper soil horizons scraped away. Whatever we had upon our arrival has been amended with horse manure, coir, and compost. There is no bed in my yard that couldn’t have been amended some more.

11 January 2013

Italian arum

Nobody I know raves over Arum italicum, but it's not a plant without its charms. Plus, it has a peculiar lifecycle.

One normally acquires a start in the form of a bulb, which should sited in part to full shade. I recommend getting that done early in fall because this Arum will grow new leaves BEFORE winter.

Fresh, variegated leaves, December 2012

In a mild location (maybe a nice USDA zone 6 or warmer), those leaves will persist through winter.

Snow atop sturdy leaves,  February 2012.
The attentive gardener might notice the curious spathe (the leafy looking bit) and spadix (the finger-like bit surrounded by the spathe) inflorescences around mid-to-late spring. They may be easier to spot the spring after a harsh, leaf-killing winter.

Arum italicum in bloom
Over the course of summer, the marbled leaves senesce (die off), and the pollinated blooms (there are tiny male and female flowers on the spadix) will develop fruit:

Clubs of green fruit change to red-orange in late July or early August.
Too many gardeners (and I'm among them!) site Arum italicum with only the foliage in mind. Once the leaves die back, one is left with 1 to 1-1/2' tall little stands of red-orange clubs. With more careful placement, these showy clubs could be punctuating the canopies of hosta gardens. It seems to me that the cultivars with faint red hues would make fine companions. Likewise, both the foliage and the fruit would show well against the bark of such plants as Acer griseum (paperbark maple) or Betula nigra (river birch).

The conscientious gardener may wish to be advised that Arum italicum can be an over-vigorous plant and may escape cultivation (robins and mockingbirds, among others, enjoy the ripe berries and thus distribute the seed). As attractive as the foliage may be (recovering well even after temperatures in the teens), it shouldn't be mingling with the natives in our natural areas.

Vigorous variegation freed of snow just this week (9 January, 2013).

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