Lords & Ladies (Arum maculatum) is a plant commonly found in British woodlands and often along verges and hedgerows close to woodlands, particularly in shady spots. It can be found across Europe. It’s a plant that’s worth becoming familiar with as it’s poisonous and in fact is one of the commonest reasons for people going to hospital with plant based poisoning.
It causes a burning sensation in the mouth and leads to swelling of the throat which can cause asphyxiation. I bit into a leaf recently to see what it was like – I bit through a small leaf and then spat it straight out. My tongue started to tingle immeadiately, then my lips; shortly afterwards my tongue and lips started to burn. The sensation lasted for about three hours. Cases of serious poisoning are rare because as soon as you bite into the leaf, your instinct is to spit it out.
The plant is distinctive with it’s large arrow shaped leaves (often with black spots) in the spring, its ‘spadix’ (see the second photo below), and finally bright red berries.
But I know 2 people who have eaten it by mistake when collecting ramsons (Allium ursinun). The Lords & Ladies were growing in amongst the ramsons with just the tips of the leaves visible. This highlights the need to be discerning when picking.
More recently on a forage one of our students brought me a leaf that they thought was common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) but was in fact Lords & Ladies. Common sorrel is usually found on grasslands so it’s not often that you’ll find it near Lords & Ladies, but it turns out that the two will grow next to each other in some places. And in this instance the student had found a very young Lords & Ladies leaf right next to common sorrel growing on a bank along a lane. So be vigilant!
In all of the photos below, the common sorrel is on the left and Lords & Ladies on the right.