Caleb Melchior has extensive experience with growing perennials after working at a specialty perennial nursery, Sugar Creek Gardens, in Kirkwood, Missouri. He is currently studying for a master’s degree in landscape architecture at Kansas State University.

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Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’
by Caleb Melchior       #Plant Profile

Stunning plants are all well and good. What garden would be without poppies, bearded iris or cherry blossoms? With those flowers, nobody cares if their foliage is scraggly or their form leaves much to be desired. But when the flamboyant flowers are gone, every garden needs good plants that look smart all year round. Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ is one of the smart plants. It’s a fantastic four-season perennial with great foliage and easy-going habits.

Now I know what you’re going to say: “Arum whatchamacallit?” I can’t have you staggering around nurseries, gasping for breath and asking the weary workers to find you something with the name Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’. Yes, its botanical name is a mouthful. But its common names are all historic, titles like cuckoo-pint or lords and ladies — a testimony to its widespread and abundant distribution in Europe. In the United States, I’ve always known it to be specified by botanical name. Don’t let the clunky name get in your way. If anything, write it down on a piece of paper. If you can’t find it locally, order online. Regardless of what it takes, find this plant.

Here’s why: Just picture an elegant plant, rather like a reptilian version of a hosta. Its leaves are large green arrowheads, 1 foot long and 6 inches wide, mottled with lighter veins like a turtle’s shell. The growth cycle begins in early autumn, as the Arum’s new leaves appear when the mums and colchicums are blooming. This set of foliage lasts through the winter, eventually becoming tattered and faded. A second set of leaves appears in midspring, larger and often with stronger markings than the winter foliage. In late spring, the plants send up fantastic pale green hooded flowers. After the flower fades, the spadix swells into a 12 inch spike of bright green berries. As summer warms, the leaves yellow and go dormant, while the fleshy berries turn bright red-orange. When cool nights return, the cycle begins again.

The most common strains are marketed under the designation Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’. Some gardeners have selected forms with distinctive markings, unusual patterns and different foliage hues. These are often sold only through one or two specialty nurseries. Regardless of distribution, many are fine plants. ‘White Winter’ is a selection with narrower leaves than the common strain, pointed with ruffled edges. Rather than the venation of the typical form, on ‘White Winter’s leaves the pale milky green washes out over most of the leaf, with blotches and a thick outer edging of fir green. ‘Scottish Silver’ is similar to ‘White Winter’. ‘Chameleon’ has rounded leaves with brighter golden-green variegation. ‘Gold Rush’ has narrow foliage, but the variegation is gold. ‘McClements’ has bright white variegation and random black splotches on the leaves.

'White Winter' is a fascinating selection of Arum italicum whose mottled foliage has stronger contrast than other forms.

'Chameleon' has wider foliage with lime green and cucumber patterning.

When choosing any of these forms or figuring out where to include them in the garden, think about their most valuable assets. The foliage, no matter which form you choose, is attractive from September to May. It’s invaluable for late winter bunches, with early spring bulbs, or for those desperate days when the whole world is frozen. Just to see a touch of green, the marbled leaves nestled down to the ground, gives hope that summer will return. In summer, when the Arum foliage dies down, it makes room for warm-season perennials to expand or for spring-planted tropicals to reach their full maturity. Consider the vibrant color of the berry spikes when choosing a summer companion.

Arum's winter foliage is shorter, nestled down into the leaves that protect it from cold.

In terms of siting, Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ tolerates full sun in cool-summer climates. Anywhere the thermometer regularly heads over 90, afternoon shade is essential to avoid scorched leaves and gradual decline. Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ thrives in a wide variety of soil conditions, but will drown if its roots are always wet. Winter hardiness is variable. It will be stunted by either extreme heat or cold. It thrives as far north as Zone 5, although its foliage may be knocked back during the coldest winter days in areas of borderline hardiness. The common form has been identified as potentially invasive in the Pacific Northwest, but hot summers and cold winters prevent it from getting out of hand throughout the rest of the country. The clones are often slower growing and multiply less readily than the standard species. If you have any questions about its survival or invasive potential, check with a local gardening expert.

Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ is not bothered by vermin, including both rabbits and deer. Its tubers are mildly toxic, but very bitter, so pets and children would not ingest enough to cause lasting damage. It also looks nothing like any frequently-grown temperate-climate edibles, so as long as children know not to graze at random on unidentified substances, there should be no problems.    

Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ is a well-cultured plant for the garden. Easy-going, predictable and understated, it is part of the framework of a balanced garden. Flirty flowers will come and go. But, no worries, Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ won’t let you down. 

Photos courtresy of Caleb Melchior.


Posted: 09/10/12   RSS | Print


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