Also known as Italian lords and ladies, this invader will be easy to spot during the fall as its characteristic stalk of berries turns a bright, visible orange or red. That startling color, along with dramatically green and white leaves shaped like an arrowhead, are the reasons why Italian arum has been a popular garden plant for the last few years – because it is not invasive in all climates, some have difficulty believing it is here.
Unfortunately, because it spreads by both root and seed (gardeners share it for this very trait), the lords and ladies have been escaping from gardens throughout the watershed. For our region (zone 7-8), there is not sufficient winter cold weather to keep it in check, and the landscapes it prefers abound. You will find this invader settling in along streams and ditches in wet to moist forested areas, but take care to distinguish it from the native Jack-in-the-pulpit, which has a more plain-Jane leaf and much more distinctive bloom, but can look quite similar when the berries are on.
In the spring, Italian lords and ladies produces an unremarkable lily-like flower that yields the stand-out berries in the fall. As the plant puts all of its resources into producing the berries over the summer, leaves will fade, then return in fall and be present throughout the winter. Unfortunately, this is one weed you may also spot in commercial nurseries and plants stores. It goes by many names, Orange candleflower and Cuckoo’s pint among them. Depending on your level of comfort, you may want to take this article with you and provide the nursery with more information about why this plant isn’t right for this region. It is certainly a good idea to share the information with our friends and neighbors in the county. Feel free to send any inquiries our way!
What can you tell them about the negative impacts of this plant? Well, for starters, care should always be taken when handling the plant, as all parts are poisonous if consumed and generally irritating to the skin when touched. The plants can reach 1-2 feet in size, and when growing densely, can crowd out native species that wildlife depend on for food and living space. Some gardeners select arum specifically to attract pollinators, missing out on the opportunity to plant native species like serviceberry that native pollinators find more attractive, or those like common camas that both attract pollinators and other beneficial, pest-reducing insects like ladybugs.
If you spot this escaped ornamental, report it to the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline at http://oregoninvasiveshotline.org/. Getting rid of it will be tough. Digging it up might result in breaking up the roots and increasing its ability to spread. Even
appropriate herbicide use has only a limited effect in curtailing the spread of this plant. The best advice out there so far is to be very diligent if you take the mechanical approach, sifting for the tiniest root fragment (plan to repeat the process annually for several years), and to carefully time any herbicide application to occur when the plant’s more susceptible white blossom is around.