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Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Urashima-so (Cobra lily)

The next morning Urashima went out as usual in his boat. The weather was fine and the sea and sky were both blue and soft in the tender haze of the summer morning. Urashima got into his boat and dreamily pushed out to sea, throwing his line as he did so. He felt unusually happy that morning, and he could not help wishing that, like the tortoise he set free the day before, he had thousands of years to live.

From "The Japanese Fairy Book" compiled by Yei Theodora Ozaki (Tuttle)

This is one of the most unusual wildflowers you are ever likely to encounter. Urashima-so (Arisaema urashima) springs up in light woodlands where its speckled, purplish "hood" gives it a slightly forbidding appearance. Indeed, the Japanese have named one of its close relations mamushi-gusa, or "viper grass," because it looks even more like a snake about to strike. However, don't be afraid to take a close look at cobra lilies (or "jack-in-the-pulpits") for they are both handsome and interesting. The true flowers are hidden inside the large hood or "spathe." These tiny flowers are borne on a central, rod-like "spadix." Since each plant bears either male or female flowers, it relies on insects for pollination. This type of plant often sends out a rotting smell to attract flies, but Urashima-so goes one step further and, like the hero of the famous folktale, it goes fishing! Its spadix is so long (about 45 cm or 18 inches) that it reaches the woodland floor and insects readily climb up it toward the flowers. However, some are in for a nasty surprise, because while the male plants provide an escape route at the base of the spathe, female plants do not.

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