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The arum family (usually called simply aroids) conprises a huge aggregation of more than 100 genera and about 1500 species of herbs, the stems of some, especially in the tropical sorts, becoming woody and even tree-like. The family is often called the arum or Calla family. It contains not only these but such well-known plants as the calla lily, the Jack-in-the-pulpit, the skunk-cabbage, the sweet flag (Acorus) and Dracunculus. All these, except the calla lily, are hardy northward, but most of the Araceae are tropical plants. All contain a bitter, often poisonous juice, sometimes milky.

Leaves various, wholly without marginal teeth, but often deeply lobed, very showy in some of the horticultural genera, notably Aglaonema, Alocasia, Anturium, Caladium, Colocasia (elephant's-ear), Dieffenbachia, Nephythytis, Schismatoglottis, Scindapsus, and Spathiphyllum. All these are handsome, tropical foliage plants of greenhouse culture, a few as summer bedding plants in the north.

There are, besides those above, two or three hardy native plants in Orontium, Peltandra, and Lysichitum. There are two tropical aquatics (Cryptocoryne and Pistia), and besides the taro (Colocasia), another genus furnishes edible rootstocks (Xanthosoma). Other horticultural genera, all tropical, are Hydrosme, Philodendron and Mostera, a curious plant with leaves full of holes, and edible fruit.

The flowers of the aroids are difficult for the gardener to fathom. What he calls a "flower" say the "Jack" in Jack-in-the-pulpit, is a collection of almost microscopic ones crowded on a column-like organ (the "Jack") technically known as the spadix. The spadix (which is the "flower" of most gardeners) may be a foot or more long in many tropical species, brightly colored and very showy.

Below the spadix there is a bract, leaflike but often colored in some genera, or funnel-shaped and completely surrounding the spadix as in the "pulpit" of the Jack-in-the-pulpit. This leaf-like or funnel-shaped organ is the spathe, common (but soon withering in many tropical genera) throughout the Araceae. Fruit fleshy in all genera.

Technical flower characters: Sepals and petals none, or replaced by 4-8 scale-like substitutes. Stamens one or many, sometimes united. Ovary one, with one to many carpels, each with one or more ovules. The individual flowers are extremely minute, and exact identification of the genera consequently difficult.


  • Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening, 4th Edition, Houghton Mifflin Co. (Boston, 1961), p. 59.

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Created: Friday, June 14, 2002; Last updated: Saturday, December 29, 2012
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