Lords and ladies (Arum maculatum)

Also known as: cuckoo pint, wild arum
SizeHeight: 30 – 50 cm

Very common in the UK

Wild arum or lords and ladies (just one of this abundant plant’s local names), has a striking appearance when in flower. From amongst the shiny-green, black-speckled, arrow-shaped leaves, arises a tall slender cowl. This opens on one side to reveal a slender purple spike. This ‘spadix’ is the true flower of the wild arum, and it gave rise to another of the plant’s local names ‘cuckoo pint’. This derives from the time of the flower’s appearance – usually with the first cuckoos – whilst ‘pint’ (once pronounced to rhyme with ‘mint’) is an Old English slang for ‘pintle’, meaning penis.

Lords and ladies is very common across most of the British Isles, being absent only from North Scotland. It also occurs frequently in Europe.

This species is found in woods and along shaded ditches and hedgerows on calcareous soil.

Lords and ladies flowers in April through to May, and is a perennial, growing from a tuber underground. In autumn, it produces a cluster of dark orange berries grouped together at the top of a stem.

Wild arum is poisonous and it is better to avoid contact with it. However, in earlier times, the roots were used as a substitute for arrowroot although it has a bitter taste. The roots were more commonly used as a source of starch for collars and ruffs, even though the toxic juice left the poor laundresses’ hands terribly blistered.

Lords and ladies is a very common plant and not considered at threat.

As this species is common across most of its range, there are currently no conservation programmes associated with it.

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk