Snake food (Arum maculatum)

The Arum maculatum is a tuberous perennial plant of the family Araceae. It is a species that develops better in the shade, in moist and drained soils, it can reach 30 to 50 cm in height, it self-sows easily in gardens, but its definitive eradication becomes complicated and its rather suggestive shape has made worthy of multiple nicknames.

It is originally from the United Kingdom, however, it is present in much of Europe, in the Asian territory of Turkey and countries of the Caucasus.


It is a perennial plant with green leaves that have an arrow shape, frequently streaked with black, the foliage of this species falls in mid-summer. Its first blades emerge from the ground and are then followed by sheath-shaped pale green leaves called spathe, within which stands an elongated and fleshy stem.

Its inflorescence occurs between the months of April and May and appears as a spike or spadix, where the flowers are grouped. At its base are a set of flowers with a single pistil and above it a belt of sterile flowers with a single purple anther. During spring, its flowers give off a bad smell that attracts insects for pollination.

Its rhizomes are large and elongated, with a brownish appearance. Its fruits are arranged in dense clusters of bright red and orange berries, which resemble ears of corn. Despite their appearance, these fruits are quite toxic to people and pets.

Arum maculatum planting and problems

Despite being a plant that can cause certain discomforts or allergies, there are those who grow them as an ornamental plant in gardens and forests. The tubers are planted in late summer or early autumn, ideally place them 20 to 30 centimeters apart and mark the soil where they were planted.

This plant usually spreads quickly through self-seeding or through the involuntary distribution of fragments of its roots around the garden, as can be the case with a homemade compost. In this species, the tubers reproduce on multiple occasions during the year and the process of eliminating them is complicated, since their rhizomes regenerate quickly.

Dealing with large areas infected by Arum Maculatum in a well planted bed is an uphill task. Attempts to eliminate it completely require a lot of effort and time, but above all a lot of patience. One of the recommendations is to recover the rhizomes from the ground to prevent their spread. However, this does not guarantee its definitive eradication, because any neglected piece will regenerate quickly. That is why it is important to ensure that the rhizome is completely removed.

Another viable remedy is to place opaque mulches in the soil, to stifle weed growth. Mulches should remain in place for at least two growing periods, a bark mulch about 15 to 20 centimeters deep is recommended.

Uses and applications

This plant and for its medicinal use must be planted in autumn or early spring, a period when its leaves are not fully developed. These, when deposited in sand in warehouses, retain their properties for a year. They can also be dried over low heat and then pulverized and kept in tightly covered jars. The fresh roots, used as a mass for capsules, retain their medicinal properties.

At one time the dried root of Arum maculatum was used as a diuretic and stimulant. The medical literature records a case of dropsy that was successfully treated with a drug composed of Arum and Angelica. In the past, the juice of fresh roots was used as a cleanser, but its effect was strong and unsafe.

Toxicity and symptoms

It is important to take precautions when handling this plant, because its different parts can generate allergic reactions to people, especially its berries that are poisonous. The plant contains tiny needle-like crystals that can severely irritate the skin.

Its ingestion can cause inflammation of the throat, dyspnea and stomach irritation. Although due to its harsh and spicy taste, it is difficult to consume large amounts of this plant, which causes a tingling sensation that acts as a warning. Due to its toxicity, its cultivation should be avoided in places where children or pets reside.


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