Arisarum simorrhinum - Friar's Cowl

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Alismatales - Family: Araceae

Arisarum vulgare

Arisarum simorrhinum with its humbug-like flower

This cute-looking wildflower is a member of the Arum familiy (Araceae) and occurs in the Mediterranean region from October through until March. It always reminds me of the old-fashioned humbug sweets - I dislike the sweets but love the flower! It is very common in fallow fields and other pastureland, but can also be found in wasteland and on roadside verges. The leaves of the plant are a very distinctive arrow-head shape and appear before the flowers. Early in its flowering season a good way of finding the flowers is to 'rummage' through the leaves, although later the flowers grow quite tall and the heads of the 'friars' can be found protruding well above the top of the leaves.

Many types of arum grow throughout the Mediterranean region including the lovely white Arum Lily which flourishes in damp ditches having made a getaway from the restrictions imposed upon it by gardeners. The closest wild relative we have to Friar's Cowl in the UK is Arum maculatum (also referred to as Cuckoo Pint and Lords and Ladies), and this is also a plant of roadside edges and wasteland where we more frequently spot the bright red berries which occur after the somewhat inconspicuous flowers have died back.

Far and away the most spectacular of the relatives of this diminutive arum is the Common Dragon Arum, Dracunculus vulgaris, which, by contrast, is enormous and advertises its presence from a considerable distance by its exceedingly unpleasant smell.

A lovely group of Friar's Cowl plants growing in the Algarve

A crowd of Friars

The specimens on this page were photographed in the Algarve in Portugal in February.

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