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Edible leaves: What could this leaf be?

Nurtured in Norfolk’s gardening expert Martyn Davey answers all your questions.
If you would like any horticulture query answered please do e-mail our head grower at 
martyn@nurturedinnorfolk.co.uk to add your thoughts to our weekly horticulture hacks.

Dear Martyn,

A plant has appeared in my front garden, a leaf from which I enclose, and as it has never bloomed I have constantly tried to remove it. As it is amongst valid plants I don’t want to use any method that will damage them, but digging it out is not working.

I should love to know what it is, and any information, as I have been unable to trace it in my plant books. Thank you in anticipation of your assistance.

Mrs C Foster. Norwich. 


Dear Reader,

Thank you for sending such a well preserved leaf, by the time it go to me it has gone quite brown but it is quite distinctive and can quickly be identified as a member of the Arum family (Araceae) unfortunately it is quite difficult to make a definite identification as the leaf marking have faded.

However it is one of two possibilities the most likely being Lords and Ladies, cuckoo plant (Arum maculatum) this is a compact tuberous perennial to about 45cm with arrow-shaped shiny green leaves often with black spots. Variable pale green to purple flushed spathes(outer part of the flower) appear in late spring, followed by spikes bearing orange-red berries in the autumn. Foliage dies down by midsummer.

Arum are tuberous perennials with simple, arrow-head shaped leaves and tiny flowers hidden, at the base of a yellow or purple, club-shaped spadix, within a showy, hood-like spathe, and followed by red berries. Although these are interesting plants that can provide good ground cover as they will grow in most soils and tolerate almost any conditions, thus making them very difficult to control. The other issue is the fact that they grow very easily from the bright red berries that are often distributed by birds and other animals.

The other plant it could be is very closely related and is just a larger version is the Large Cuckoo plant (Arum italicum)  in its “wild” form is more modest than the commonly grown ‘Marmoratum’  but has pleasantly glossy green leaves with a tracery of paler veins on the leaf. As the common name suggests this is a larger version of the same plant and has very obvious white veining of the leaves so you should with a leaf on the plant, be able to tell them apart.

They grow prolifically from seed and quickly develop a tuber like root that will re-grow from any part left in the soil. There lies the problem – they proliferate too successfully, and they are very hard to remove, due to their structure. Each plant has a long, fleshy stalk which is attached – but not very firmly – to a knobbly, light brown tuber with fat white hair-like roots. This tuber can be as much as a foot underground, in mature clumps, so unless you can dig a hole that deep, it can be impossible to get the tuber out – and of course, if you don’t remove the tuber, the plant will grow back next year.

How do I deal with them? Well, if they are not surrounded by other plants, I get out my fork and I dig, dig, dig: the trick is to get your fork in deeply, before you start to lever the plants out, otherwise that fleshy stalk just snaps off the tuber, in rather the same manner as a lizard dropping its tail: ie, no harm is done to the tuber, and it WILL regrow!

If the Arums are in amongst other plants, and large-scale digging is not possible, then it’s down on hands and knees I go, with a daisy grubber.

In the very worst cases, where you simply cannot get at the tubers, then don’t waste time: use a hand tool to loosen the soil a little, if you can, then just pull up the top growth and don’t worry about the tubers. It will take them a year to re-grow, and if you do it again next year, and the following year, then eventually those tubers will run out of energy, as you are depriving them of all their chlorophyll-containing leaves before they get a chance to restock. Eventually, even Arum will get exhausted!

The most important point, though, about getting rid of Arum, is to never, EVER let them set seed. As soon as you see the first hint of orange, pull up the stems immediately, and put them either on the bonfire heap or in the council green-waste bin: don’t ever put them on the compost!

So there’s the answer to the Arum lily problem: constant vigilance, never let them set seed, and if you can’t dig them out, at least pull their tops off, and don’t be surprised if it takes you a couple of years to beat them – but beat them you can!


Jobs for this week in the garden.

Sow seed outdoors in mild areas with light soil, eg: broad beans, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, onions, lettuces, radish, peas, spinach, summer cabbage, salad leaves, leeks, Swiss chard, kohl rabi, turnip and summer cauliflower. Be guided by the weather, and sow only if conditions are suitable.

Weed and top dress containers with fresh compost, add a little feed with fish blood and bone or controlled release fertiliser.

Protect new spring shoots from slugs, try to use bird friendly methods.


Martyn Davey – Head Grower

EDP Gardening Expert Columnist 

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