Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

May 22, 1921. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 56(39=33): 3-W.

Forest, Field and Stream

The Indian Turnip.

By Sandy Griswold.

This is what we called Jack-in-the-Pulpit years ago, as we told you last Sunday, and it is still our favorite name, for the plant. Just now it should be at the height of its glory, as it is in mid-May its flowers usually burst forth, but this spring they have been much delayed.

The Indian turnip generally wears a striped garb, but sometimes it is pale green, veined with deeper tints, and sometimes it is stained with splashes of purple, and this is the variety most frequently found in the woods along the old River road.

The little plant has two leaves, divided each into three leaflets, and these leaves over-top jack's pulpit, and act as an effective screen against the greedy eyes of wild flower pillagers. it gets its name, Indian turnip, from the fact that the root bulb is fashioned exactly like a tiny specimen of this vegetable, and this "corm" is hotter than the hottest tobasco sauce with which you ever tinctured a porterhouse steak.

While the uninitiated, those who have been induced to taste of this innocent little tuber, at the time, undoubtedly thought it the most execrable of all our wild wood plants, not even excepting the perfidious poison ivy, or oak or sumach, notwithstanding, Jack-in-the-pulpit is really a most useful, interesting and beauteous little fellow.

The tiny preacher, ensconced in his fragrant pulpit, with its orchid roof, formed by the curving spathe, which bears a striking resemblance to the old-fashioned sounding board placed over many pulpits to increase the resonance of the speaker's voice. But this pulpit is not for religious orations, but serves as a trap for the ensnaring and destruction of guileless and hapless flies and other marauding insects. When the anthers open on the inside their meal-like pollen falls and is scattered over the floor within. Then the moment that gnat or woodfly crawls into the flower, drawn by the odor of the honey, he becomes a prisoner. He is held fast and close, although able to subsist for a long time on the sweets he finds at his disposal. The distance within is not sufficient even for one of these infinitesimal insects to spread its wings and fly. Neither can it crawl up the smooth and slippery sides of the pulpit. But after the pollen has all been shed, then an opening occurs in the flower and the prisoner is freed. If the pollen hangs on for any considerable length of time, there is no escape for the unhappy insect and he gives up the ghost. Many of these little carcasses are often found within the withered bodies of the flowers.

The Indian turnip also produces bunches of scarlet berries, which the Indians used to boil and devour with great relish, and which are yet used in many medicines.

There is another little flower which we knew in childhood, also, only by its aboriginal title. It is the Spring Everlasting, or Indian tobacco. While it is not as common in any of Nebraska's wooded regions, as it is back in my old home woods, it is somewhat abundant in the little sylvan glades up along the River road. It belongs to the group of composite plants, innumerable small flowers being crowded together in one head. It is another plant whose seeds are fertilized by the bees carrying the pollen, as the seed bearing and pollen bearing are distinct plants. We boys used to chew these little white fuzzy tops as they colored the saliva like tobacco does, hence its name, Indian tobacco.