Sex in the garden

Not me, silly. The plants!

A friend of mine, K., lives in a manse. She not only has a lovely landscaped yard with mature perennial beds, but a good friend who likes to garden in it. And, since both of these friends have theological degrees, they thought it would be fun to add lots of religious plants.

There is a Crown of Thorns, and Pulmonaria (sometimes called “Mary and Joseph” or “Bethlehem Plant”). There is Soloman’s Seal and Jacob’s Ladder. And of course, “Jane in the Pulpit”.

Jane? Shouldn’t that be “Jack in the Pulpit”? I asked her about it once and she pointed out (quite correctly) that a woman preacher made far more sense in a woman preacher’s garden. I discovered this week, however, that there is more to its name than who lives in the house.

Some plants, like Stinging Nettle or Holly have only one gender. Many more plants contain both male and female parts; they tend to cross pollinate, although if pressed, they could reproduce all by themselves. But there is another category of plants: those who can actually choose their gender. Jack in the Pulpit belongs to this small group.

These plants are readily found in Ontario and the Maritimes. They make their home on the woodland floor blooming, as many wildflowers do, in the spring before the leaf canopy fills in and steals the sunshine. It seems that Jack, as he begins his life small and full of trepidation, is happy enough being male. As he grows stronger and braver and more robust, however, he often changes his mind and changes his gender, becoming a reproductive female instead.

So my friend may well have had a “Jack” at some point. But now well established in her garden, K. can be pretty confident that it really is more likely to be a “Jane”!

All of this is on my mind because I was happy to find that my new friend Jack, planted only last spring, has made it through the winter. Living under the shade of a big ash tree in the backyard, he is bigger than last year and seems quite content. I just hope he’s thinking about a sex change.

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