Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mouse tail plant

Shopping for perennials for my shade garden last week, I happened across a tiny plant that looked like a mouse hiding under the leaves:

Arisarum proboscideum, mouse plant.

A very small mouse; the entire flower stalk (without the tail) is barely two inches high. I couldn't resist bringing it home.

The plant tag says it is a
Rhizomatous perennial. ... Green, arrowhead leaves may go dormant in summer. Can be invasive. ... Blooms early spring. Grows 8" tall, with an indefinite spread. Plant in woodland and rock gardens.
I don't have a rock garden; my soil is too wet to hold the rocks. But my deep shade probably counts as woodland. The plant likes moist soil, not wet. If the soil dries out, it may go dormant earlier than usual, but it will come back the next year.

It is a native of Spain and Italy, where it grows wild in moist woodlands.

It is an aroid, a relative of the skunk cabbage, with the same general structure; a thick, fleshy flower stalk in the centre, (the spadix) covered by a hood, or spathe. In this flower, though, the spathe completely hides the flower stalk. It wraps around, leaving a small gap in front, where insects can get in to pollinate the flowers.

Skunk cabbage, Gunderson Slough, showing spadix and spathe.

Another aroid: the peace lily. Image from Wikipedia

The mouse flower is said to smell like a mushroom, although I haven't noticed that yet. In its native land, it is pollinated by fungus gnats, attracted to the mushroomy smell. I don't know if we have insects that will respond the same way.

About the species name: A. proboscideum. "Proboscis" refers to a nose or snout, or in invertebrates, to an extended mouth part, such as a feeding tube.
... from Latin proboscis, the latinisation of the Greek προβοσκίς (proboskis), ... which comes from πρό (pro) "forth, forward, before"... + βόσκω (bosko), "to feed, to nourish". (Wikipedia)
This seems turned around; the English name, "Mouse tail plant", or "Mouse plant" suits the flower better.

I've planted it, for now, in a small pot by the door, where I can see the tiny "mice" as they grow.


  1. What a cute little thing!!! I hope it grows well for you!

  2. What an interesting plant. We have lots of skunk cabbage blooming in the creek behind Mom's condo. The beavers that moved in last fall have really changed the habitat. Now it is more of a pond than a tiny runoff creek. - Margy

  3. Margy, do you get to see the beavers? Ours are too good at being invisible.

  4. Is that what they are called? My friend brought me one as a house warming gift, and I always meant to research it!

  5. That is a new plant to me - it is very interesting. I adore skunk cabbage - having grown up in SE Alaska where we had no skunks, I thought the scent was a wonderful harbinger of spring.


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