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Arisaema jacquemontii (Jacquemont’s cobra lily)

The subtly attractive Jacquemont's cobra lily is native to the Himalaya, southern India, and the Khasi Hills region in north-east India, and can be cultivated in shady areas of temperate gardens.

Detail of a pressed and dried herbarium specimen of Arisaema jacquemontii

Detail of a pressed and dried herbarium specimen of Arisaema jacquemontii

Species information

Scientific name: 

Arisaema jacquemontii Blume

Common name: 

Jacquemont’s cobra lily

Conservation status: 

Least Concern according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Alpine and subalpine forests and rocky slopes.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental, fermented leaves and boiled tubers are eaten in Nepal, medicinal.

Known hazards: 

All parts of the plant contain oxalic acid and calcium oxalate crystals (raphides) which are strongly irritant and can result in severe poisoning if eaten. Can only be eaten safely after being properly processed and cooked.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Lilianae
Order: 
Alismatales
Family: 
Araceae
Genus: Arisaema

About this species

Arisaema jacquemontii is a cobra lily belonging to the same genus as jack-in-the-pulpit (A. triphyllum). One unusual trait shared by all Arisaema species, and not those of other genera within the Araceae, is the ability of plants to change sex during their lifetime. Arisaema plants are typically male when small, and female or hermaphroditic when large, with a single plant capable of changing sex depending on its nutrition and genetics, and perhaps changing sex several times during its long life (20 years or more).

Synonym: 

Arisaema wightii, A. exile, A. cornutum, A. cylindraceum.

Genus: 
Arisaema

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Native to Afghanistan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Arisaema jacquemontii is fairly common in Himalayan forests at 2,300 - 4,300 m above sea level. It also occurs in the Nilgiri Hills in southern India, and the Khasi Hills region of north-east India.

Description

Like all members of the genus Arisaema, Jacquemont’s cobra lily is a tuberous perennial. It grows to about 70 cm tall and dies back to ground level in the winter or dry season.

It usually has two palmate (hand-shaped) leaves, each with five to nine leaflets. The spathe (sheathing bract) is green on the outside and pale-green inside, with faint white stripes, and arches over the spadix (unbranched inflorescence), its tip elongated and coiled. The spadix is unisexual and has a white or purple, tail-like tip. The fruits are globose berries, which are red when mature.

All parts of the plant are poisonous.

Threats and conservation

There are no known threats to this common species. However, a 1980s survey of the Khasi Hills (a montane region in north-east India) reported the species to be uncommon in the forests there, and noted a general decline in the populations of all the plants used medicinally by local people, some species having disappeared altogether due in part to deforestation.

Conservation assessments carried out at Kew

Arisaema jacquemontii is being monitored as part of the 'IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants', which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.

Uses

Fresh vegetables are scarce in many rural areas of Nepal, as people do not own large fields to grow vegetables year-round, and most villagers cannot afford to buy fresh vegetables in the markets. In addition, the climate in the Himalaya is too harsh in winter for many crops to grow. To counter the frequent lack of fresh vegetables, Nepalese villagers dry or ferment available green vegetables for later use. ‘Gundruk’ is prepared by fermenting leafy vegetables (such as various species of Brassica), or the leaves of wild plants.

Despite being poisonous if eaten raw, the leaves of Arisaema jacquemontii are used in this way. Fermentation helps to break down the toxic ingredients. 

The tubers are also dug up, boiled and eaten like potatoes. In India, the tubers are crushed and the juice used for treating ringworm and various other skin diseases.

Jacquemont’s cobra lily is widely cultivated as an ornamental.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in Kew's seed bank vault at Wakehurst.

Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 10.9 g
Collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One
Composition values: Average oil content = 1.8%. Average protein content = 14%.

This species at Kew

Arisaema jacquemontii can be seen growing in the Water Garden and Bog Garden at Wakehurst.

Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Arisaema jacquemontii are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world by appointment. The details of some of these, including some images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

View details and images of specimens

References and credits

Anon. (1933). XLI – New or little-known plants from south India: II. Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) Vol. 1933 No. 7 (1933): 339-357.

Crook, V. & Bachman, S. (2009). Arisaema jacquemontii. Assessment using IUCN Categories and Criteria 3.1 (IUCN 2001). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

Frohne, D. & Pfänder, H.J. (2005). Poisonous Plants. A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians. Second edition (translated from the German fifth edition, 2004). Manson, London.

Gusman, G. & Gusman, L. (2006). The Genus Arisaema: a Monograph for Botanists and Nature Lovers. A.R.G. Gantner, Ruggell, Liechtenstein.

Heng Li et al. (2010). Araceae. In: Flora of China. (Accessed 18 April 2011). Available online.

Manandhar, N.P. (2002). Plants and People of Nepal. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

Rao, R.R. (1981). Ethnobotany of Meghalaya: medicinal plants used by Khasi and Garo tribes. Econ. Bot. 35(1): 4-9.

Renner, S.S., Li-Bing Zhang & Murata, J. (2004). A chloroplast phylogeny of Arisaema (Araceae) illustrates Tertiary floristic links between Asia, North America, and East Africa. Am. J. of Bot. 91(6): 881-888.

Vitt, P., Holsinger, K.E. & Jones, C.S. (2003). Local differentiation and plasticity in size and sex expression in jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum (Araceae). Am. J. of Bot. 90(12): 1729-1735.

World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (Accessed 18 April 2011). Available online.  

Kew Science Editor: Patricia Malcolm
Kew contributors: Anna Haigh, Paul Wilkin and Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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