Green dragon seeds

Puff the Magic Green Dragon

Most hikers and plant lovers in our area are familiar with the common Jack-in-the Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. The other native Arisaema, A. dracontium, or green dragon, is not so well known. I think green dragons are a bit harder to spot when they are on the small side, as the flower blends with surrounding foliage. Large green dragons are quite spectacular, but less common than Jacks, and possibly in less-traveled spots.

Characteristics: Green dragons usually have one compound leaf, but it looks as though there are more, with 7-15 leaflets arranged in a semicircle. When viewed from the side, it is possible to imagine a silhouette of dragon wings, with the central leaflet (often a bit lower) as the head. But I have also read that the name may come from the long “serpentine” spadix or that the large corms could look like dragon’s feet.

They grow from 12″-36″ high. The yellowish-green sheathed flowers in late spring have a very long slender spadix (“rat’s tail”) extending from the top of the spathe. The fruit is a cluster of berries that turn red when ripe. The plant is not self-fertile. The small flowers encircling the spadix are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female) and are pollinated by flies. I have seen statements that only one sex is to be found on any one plant, so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. But most references state that, as with other Arisaema, a specific A. dracontium plant can have flowers of either or both sexes; it “changes sex” from year to year depending on age and conditions, so you just need to have a few plants to produce seeds.

Cautions: Arisaema dracontium contains calcium oxylate crystals. These cause an extremely unpleasant sensation similar to needles being stuck into the mouth and tongue if they are eaten, but they are easily neutralized by thoroughly drying or cooking the plant or by steeping it in water. Some people have skin reactions from handling the plant or seeds.

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aris tr PSS_med.jpg

The second caution is more oblique. There are many wonderful Arisaemas in the world, and many of them are grown by afficianados with good woodland conditions. There are also related plants, such as Pinellias, which are very easily confused with Arisaemas. Pinellias are also grown by many gardeners, and some are well behaved and lovely. But some can be very aggressive in gardens, and could be a problem near natural areas. If you obtain Arisaema dracontium from a friend, or from any sort of garden exchange, please be certain you have the correct plant. And if you have an “imposter”, however benign, please be certain that you clearly label it as such, and only give it to equally knowledgeable and responsible friends. (See “Green Dragon or Prolific Imposter?” for more information on the most easily confused species.)

Propagation: Arisaema dracontium is easily propagated from seeds. Clean off the pulp, plant the seeds promptly or store cool and moist in the refrigerator. Cullina claims that the seeds will germinate after dry storage, and they need cold stratification for 3-6 months. I just place the cleaned seeds in moist potting mix in a zip lock bag and put them in the refrigerator until early spring, when I move them to warmth under lights. They can bloom in 2-3 years.

Culture & Habitat: Green dragons are native to floodplain forests and edges of marl ponds from Quebec to Minnesota, south to Texas and Florida. Thus it should have moist organic soil in shade. Small offset corms are formed once the original corm gets large; these eventually detach and grow on their own. The best time to move or divide green dragons is in the fall when the plants go dormant. While the green dragon population is apparently safe in the state (S4), it is not that common in Tompkins county. Only move garden specimens, not wild!

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Green dragons and fiery seeds

Arisaema dracontium, a native plant that’s known as green dragon, perks up the fall garden with its fiery red seedpods.

Green dragon, Arisaema dracontium, is a native plant that produces fiery red seedpods in the fall to liven up the shady or partly shady areas of the landscape. Here it’s planted with Christmas fern, a good companion plant.

September 17, 2011

  • By Gene Bush

Arisaema dracontium, or green dragon, is what I call a “twofer.” It blooms in April, then the second half of the twofer begins in September as its seeds ripen, turning waxy, fiery-red.

Arisaema dracontium (which is native to most of eastern North America and the US Midwest) is a late riser. It does not emerge until well after jack-in-the-pulpit (A. triphyllum). In my Indiana garden, that is around the very last of April with warmer winters and the springs we’ve been having recently. Sometimes it’s the first part of May.

Unusual growth habit

When emerging the green dragon resembles an umbrella. Completely formed in all parts, the bloom or inflorescence pushes up first with the foliage unfolding along each side. The “bloom” matures, with foliage forming over it.

The size of the plant can vary greatly, due to genetics, environment, and cultural practices in the garden. Generally the height is from about 15 inches up to 30 inches.

The tall, stout stalk coming up from a shallow tuber has no foliage except at the top. Then there are 5 to 15 leaflets formed around the outside edge of a half circle that some liken to a horseshoe. The half circle sits centered upon the stalk.

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When mature, green dragon will “bloom” about one-third to one-half of the way up the stalk from the tuber. On a slender stem, a fleshy tubular-shaped inflorescence forms with a long pointed “tongue” reaching upward alongside the stalk.

This modified leaf can be up to two inches or more in length with the tongue reaching up to six inches or more. I have seen the various colorations of the tongue ranging from the same green as the rest of the plant to orangey-yellow.

The green dragon contributes not only great architecture to gardens, it also lends a sense of uniqueness. The most colorful part of having a mature green dragon is the seedheads, which are popular with birds and small wildlife.

After the plant has bloomed and set seed — come late August and September, in my area — the shiny green clusters of seeds will change color. Tall stalks will break and fall over so the seeds will be sown away from the parent plant.

The seeds will age to become scarlet-red, waxy berries in a tight head. The stalk withers, leaving the fiery seedhead lying across the green of nearby plants. I find the show of seeds to be as colorful as any perennial bloom.

Companions for a dragon

My favorite garden companions for the green dragon are ferns. Two favorite ferns are Japanese painted ferns of your favorite named selections, and Christmas fern for a native plant. Green dragon grows well in USDA hardiness Zones 4 to 9, from Quebec to Florida..