Araceæ (Arum tribe).

The Araceæ include the Arum maculatum, or Cuckoo-pint, peculiar in having the flowers enclosed by a kind of sheath formed like a leaf, and called a "spathe." The "Portland Sago" is obtained from the Rhizome of this plant, but some of the species of this order are poisonous. The Dumb-cane (Caladium Segninum) paralyses the tongue, if chewed.

The Arum.

To the French the Arum is commonly known as the Calf's foot (Pied de veau ). It is a common enough plant, growing on the borders of the wood, and delighting especially in the shade of the hazel trees, but it bears not the slightest resemblance to the hoof of any quadruped whatsoever, unless, indeed, to a very fervid imagination there should be visible a shadowy similitude in its leaf.

And it is, in truth, asserted—but, not having the eye of faith, the editor cannot see any ground for the assertion—that its sagillate or arrow-headed leaves, marked by a strongly-defined midrib, bear a certain likeness to the "under bi-ungulated face" of the foot of a young ruminant. Appearing in the early days of spring, they contrast agreeably, by their shining verdure, with the colour of the dead leaves heaped up at the base of the hedgerows. Simultaneously with its leaves comes forth a curious organ,—rare in vegetables of temperate regions, common in the tropical palms, and characteristic of the family of the Aroidaceæ, to which our Arum belongs. This organ, rolled up in a coil or spiral, is named the spathe. It protects the flowers in their young state, and, as they are developed, gradually falls off. Its colour is a greenish yellow; at the summit it is sometimes streaked with purplish veins, and at the base it swells out in a globose fashion.

A small thermometer, introduced into the interior of the rolled-up spathe, indicates a rise of temperature equal to one or two degrees above that of the external atmosphere. Whence comes this difference? Because in the spathe is frequently found imprisoned another organ, the seat of the mystery of reproduction. This organ is a fleshy axis, on which are arranged the flowers in two distinct rings; the upper is occupied by the stamens, reduced to simple anthers (sessile stamens); observe the filamentous appendages—they are abortive ovaries. These same appendages also surmount the lower ring, where several rows are set of sessile ovaries; each ovary composed of a single lobe, containing a very small number of ovules, the majority of which miscarry as the ovaries become metamorphosed into bright red berries: these are the fruits which appear in autumn; they form a spike or ear of coral, each containing, ordinarily, a single seed. The flowers, as a consequence of this separation of the two sexes, are monœcious ; the succulent axis which bears them is called a spadix.[53] On tearing open the spathe, our glance first rests upon the apex of the spadix, which has a club-like form, and is of a beautiful violet-red colour. The two rings of sexual organs have much less attraction for the profane; the lower ring, loaded with female flowers, is more prominent than the upper ring, which bears the male flowers.

The root of our Arum also deserves a particular examination. It is a white tubercular stock or stem, containing a quantity of fecula, mixed, as in the West Indian manioc, with an acrid poisonous principle which produces a burning painful heat in the throat. This injurious principle is destroyed by exposure to the fire, and by repeatedly boiling the plant in water. After being thus heated, there remains only the fecula, in the form of a white powder, which, in times of scarcity, supplies a very nutritious food. "I made use of it," says Bosc, "during the storms of the Revolution, when I had taken refuge in the solitudes of the forest of Montmorency. This plant is so abundant in this forest, and in many other localities, that, at the epoch I speak of, it would have ensured the subsistence of several thousands of men, if they had known its alimentary properties. I was seriously counting on the resources which it would place at my disposal, when the death of Robespierre relieved me from my difficulties."[54]

Our arum, which we have taken as a type of the family of the Aroidaceæ, is called maculatum, or "spotted," in allusion to the white and violet spots with which its leaves are besprinkled.

Fig. 34.—The Arum arisarum.

Another, and not less interesting species, is the Arum arisarum. (See Fig. 34, a.) It loves to display its exquisite leafage on the rocks bordering the "sea-marge," and is found in profusion along almost the entire littoral of the Mediterranean. It is a precocious flower—making its appearance about the end of December, and flourishing until the beginning of Spring. The spathe, which in the Arum maculatum  has all the aspect of an etiolated leaf, assumes, in the Arum arisarum, the tints of a corolla,—is of a beautiful warm red violet, streaked with white. The fleshy axis, which ought rather to be called gynandrous (both male and female) than a spadix, is of a red colour; naked in its upper portion, which terminates with a kind of apple. It would remind a drummer-boy of the formidable staff carried by his drum-major (see Fig. 34, b.); the stamens, reduced to the condition of bilobed anthers, are mounted around the central part; and the ovaries, less numerous than the stamens, occupy the base of the axis. Each monocular ovary is crowned by a sessile stigma, and each lobe contains a great number of erect ovules. In the Arum maculatum, the number of ovules does not exceed six. Some botanists have laid hold of this characteristic as an excuse for withdrawing the Mediterranean species from the arums, and creating a new genus, arisarum. The variety we have just described is, in that case, denominated the Arisarum vulgare.

The ancients have mentioned numerous species of the arum. But it is a very difficult task to bring their nomenclature into any kind of agreement with the species described by modern botanists. However, we may, I think, regard the arisarum  of Pliny and Dioscorides as positively identical with our Arum arisarum. But we are unable to admit that the aron, the hepha, the dracunculus, the dracontium, can be, as commentators represent, one and the same plant; still less can we admit that this plant is our Arum maculatum, which is very much rarer in the south than in the north and centre of Europe. In the solution of such problems as these, geographical botany is an element which must not be neglected. Unfortunately it has never been taken into account by the commentators on the great classical authorities.

Let me advance a simple proposition. Since the potatoe has become diseased, and the species tends to degenerate, may we not find a substitute for it,—at least, a partial one,—among our Aroids, and, notably, in the Arum maculatum ?

[53]When the spike bears numerous flowers, surrounded by a spathe, or sheathing bract, it is called a spadix.

[54]Bosc, a distinguished naturalist, died in 1828, aged 69. In the ministry of Roland, he accepted the delicate post of administrator of prisons; was proscribed after the terrible events of May 31, 1793; and lay concealed, along with Laréveillière-Lépaux, for several weeks in the forest of Montmorency.