Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Italian Arum

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No, this isn't a houseplant I forgot to dig up and bring inside.  It's an arum lily, and it's hardy to Maine.  The leaves are wet in the gentle rain, but they're shiny even when dry.  And how about those showy markings? 

 

Arum italicum 'Pictum' is the plant that does everything backwards: coming up in September, dying back in June, and fruiting in August, when the ground is otherwise bare. 

 

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Most astonishing, these luscious leaves are totally evergreen.  On second thought, what's even more astonishing is that the flowers make their own heat, and can be noticeably warm to the touch.  

 

 Italian arum scoffs at doing anything the normal way.  I wouldn't ever garden without it. 

 

 

Here's how to grow this uniquely eccentric perennial:


Latin Name

Arum italicum 'Pictum'

Common Name

Variegated Italian Arum

Family

Araceae, the Arum family.

What kind of plant is it?

Perennial bulb. 

Hardiness

Zones 5 -9.

Habit

In Fall, individual leaves arise from the underground bulbs in loose but ultimately ground-covering colonies.  Despite their lush and tropical appearance, they're evergreen and persist through the Winter.  They grow much larger in Spring—when ghostly and pale calla-like blooms appear—but become completely dormant in June.  By August, the flowers have matured to showy spikes of large bittersweet-orange berries.

Rate of Growth

Slow but steady.

Size in ten years

Arum italicum takes a couple of years just to establish.  Be patient.  Leaf size, colony density, and colony width all increase diligently year to year—but again, be patient.  Well-established clumps increase both by self-seeding as well as by offsets of the bulbs.  In a decade, a given colony that had been started, say, with five bulbs could be a solid patch of foliage twenty inches across.  In Fall, the new foliage is low to the ground—six inches high, maybe.  In Spring, that same foliage grows further (and can be joined by Spring-emerging foliage, too), and can top eighteen inches, with the tips of the hoods of the flowers only a bit taller. 

Texture

Established clumps bring a full and tropical texture in the Spring; the Fall foliage is so much less dense that the texture is open and quirky.

Grown for

its contrarian lifestyle:  The foliage looks as tender as any houseplant's, and it's hard to accept that the plant is hardy north of Florida.  That the plant is, in fact, hardy to Maine is startling.  That the foliage emerges in Fall, not Spring, is amazing.  That the foliage is soundly evergreen even through the stern Winters of Maine, is head-spinning.

 

its foliage: Arrow-shaped and shiny, with the top surface heavily networked with channels of cream. 

 

its flowers: Similar in structure to calla lilies, with a pale finger-like spathe backed by a large pointed hood that's pale and translucent (and therefore not nearly as showy) instead of calla's creamy white. 

 

its fruit: in August, large bittersweet-orange berries crowd the top of thick stems.  They are extremely showy, and deserve your most attentive "contexting."  See "How to handle it" below for suggestions.

 

its durability:  Arum italicum can persist for decades. 

 

its imperviousness to animals:  The foliage and bulbs are all avoided; the berries are highly poisonous, but not to birds.  Oddly, the spathes themselves can be favored by rodents.

Flowering season

Mid-Spring, but the flowers are largely hidden by the lush and large Spring foliage.

Color combinations

The foliage and flowers bring green and cream to your garden, and they can associate with any other color.  But the bright-orange August berries are another matter.  They don't last long, but they have a trumpeting prominence.  Dark colors are the best backdrop for the berry spikes, and hot colors the best choice for hot-weather flowers near them.

Partner plants

Italian arum's unusual yearly cycle provides several opportunities for partner plants.  The foliage is showy from Fall through Spring, when so many "normal" plants are leafless.  Arum's shade-tolerance means that it can be planted amid deciduous shrubs, and even beneath them if they're upright and arching instead of densely-branched and groundcovering.  But even a luscious planting of arums won't take the curse off of deciduous shrubs whose bare branching is awkward and unattractive.  Lilacs that are underplanted with Arum italicum won't suddenly look attractive in the Winter. 

 

Instead, partner with deciduous "woodies" whose branching is already interesting in form or color or both.  Japanese maples and Siberian dogwoods would both be ideal.  Or consider ornamental raspberries with showy canes:  Ghost bramble, Rubus cockburnianus 'Aureus'; or wineberry, Rubus phoenicolasius.

 

The foliage is so interesting and, as the colonies mature, substantial, that underplanting isn't needed.  Anyway, the usual dark-foliaged evergreen groundcovers—vinca, pachysandra, ivy—don't provide as good Winter contrast as bare earth or mulch.  My colony of Arum italicum is growing beneath a dwarf larch, so the leaves are colorfully mulched by the larch needles.

 

The berry clusters in August—which stand tall amid now-bare patches of ground where the cool-weather foliage had been—can look odd to the point of artifice.  Were they just poked into the ground instead of growing up from it?  The solution is a shade-tolerant underplanting that's dormant in the Winter. 

 

Hostas would be in leaf anytime the arum is not.  If you choose smaller-size or even miniature ones, the arum's foot-tall berry spikes won't be hidden.  Asarum species and cultivars would be good, too.

Where to use it in your garden

Arum italicum prefers some shade, and is a natural part of woodland gardens.  Think of it, also, for the north side of your house, as well as under the branches of tall deciduous shrubs and ornamental trees.  Because the foliage is such a shock all Winter long, be sure to have at least one patch of arum right alongside a pathway, so you can enjoy it without having to trudge through the mud first.

Culture

Part shade, in soil that doesn't dry out when the plants are in leaf Fall through Spring.  But because Fall, Winter, and Spring are normally when the soil is consistently moist, anyway, Arum can be planted almost anywhere, in any soil, as long as it receives enough shelter from suddenly-hot Spring sun to prevent foliage scorch. 

 

The variegation is supposedly more intense if the soil's less fertile—but that slows down the colony growth, so would only be an option after you've already gotten a substantial Arum colony established in good soil elsewhere.

How to handle it: The Basics

Arum italicum needs only to be planted a few inches deep in a spot that you've supplied with a long-lasting marker.  It can take a couple of years for foliage to show, let alone burgeon, so only if the marker is durable will you remember where you planted them. 

 

Pull the collapsed foliage away at the beginning of the colony's Summer dormancy.  Later in August, let the berry spikes fall where they may—they tend to keel over from the base, still attached to the bulb, as if they were tall trees in a forest—or, if you'd like to estabish a new colony elsewhere, cut off the fallen spikes and set them down on nicely-dug ground in the new location.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

None.

Quirks or special cases

Everything about Arum italicum is a quirk and a special case.

Downsides

Arum italicum is thoroughly poisonous.  The berries are particularly so, but because they taste terrible—and immediately—it would be difficult to chew long enough to ingest many.  Even so, Arum italicum is not the plant for a garden frequented by youngsters.  Some people get an allergic skin reaction just from handling the foliage; test out your susceptibility and wear gloves if needed. 

Variants

Arum italicum can vary in variegation, and cultivars with even more dramatic coloring than 'Pictum' are occasionally offered.  'McClements' Form' is brighter, and young leaves also have black spots.  'Marmoratum' looks the same as 'Pictum'.

 

Arum maculatum is similar, and also has variegated cultivars. 

 

If you want to fall down the rabbit hole all the way, learning about arums that are merely obscure in addition to those that are both obscure as well as marvelous, visit the International Aroid Society's site.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

Arum italicum self-seeds; its bulbs also offset.  It can be propagated, then, both by seed and by division.

Native habitat

Arum italicum is native to Europe.

 
 
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