February 29
by Jim Smith

There are few of us for whom a particular plant does not evoke special memories. My memory was so touched recently as I sorted through a box of old forgotten books. There in that treasure trove was the first acquisition in my early library of nature and wild plants books. It was a U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin published in 1930 – American Medicinal Plants of Commercial Importance.

Tucked insiindian turnip root for bcwgde was a 1939 price list from Elliot Richard, a wholesale botanical druggist of my youthful acquaintance. Among the prices of “…roots, barks, herbs in clean whole sacks delivered…” was listed Indian turnip root at $0.40 per pound. By any other name, this is Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum.)

At the end of the depression, earning 40 cents per pound for anything sounded like a windfall. For a kid who knew where the Indian turnip grew in some abundance, it seemed like nothing less than a “get-rich-quick” opportunity. Despite the hardships and shortages of the depression, it was a time when our natural resources seemed endless, and wild collecting seemed perfectly innocent and reasonable.jack in the pulpit for bcwg

Demand for Jack-in-the-pulpit slackened, and I moved on to hellebore (Veratrum viride), mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum) and others. My fortune managed to elude me, but I gained an abiding interest in native plants and trees, which ultimately led to a career in forestry.

Jan Midgley’s presentation to the Georgia Native Plant Society last September
inspired me to try to propagate some natives from seed. The Indian turnip berries we collected, cleaned and sowed last fall are up in the seed bed. Hopefully, by next year, they will grace someone’s garden or woodland glade, and my memories will have come full circle.