In search of the friar’s cowl

A couple of weeks ago, I took the long version of my hill walk on the first sunny day we’d had in days. At the top of the hill, I stopped to look out over the valley and the last coastal hills to the shining ocean beyond, a view that is the main reason for taking this particular route. When at last I turned to resume my walk, I glanced at the fallow, stony field on the other side of the road and thought, “Now that is a perfect spot for friar’s cowls.”

Friar’s cowls are tiny plants, related to the arums, which bloom in the winter and early spring, before taller plants can grow and shade them out. They’re one of my favorite winter flowers because you have to really want to find them.

I stepped across the dirt road, put my hand on the waist-high embankment, leaned over to look, and had to laugh. The very first place my gaze had fallen — about 10 cm in front of my hand — was occupied by a friar’s cowl. This is the sort of thing that makes wildflower lovers want to do an end zone dance. In fact the whole field was dotted with them, and I regretted not having my camera.

Today I went up there again, camera strapped to my belt. At the top of the hill I looked and looked, and finally found one. The search was considerably more difficult than last time, but I only needed one.

This is a friar’s cowl, Arisarum vulgare.

Friar's cowl 4

None of the leaves you see belong to this plant (its leaves are lower and smaller), and the “flower” isn’t a flower at all, but a spathe.

Here’s a closer look:

Friar's cowl 1

…which enables you to see the curvature of the spathe, and why it was given the name friar’s cowl.

And here’s why you have to want to find friar’s cowls:

Friar's cowl: size perspective

(I actually meant to bring a euro coin for a size perspective, but forgot. Happily, the sunglasses worked even better, and I never leave home without them. Noted for future flower photography…)

After taking these photos, I searched the rest of the field and found nothing. This appears to have been the only friar’s cowl blooming at the moment. I think I caught it at the end of the season.

Next up for the hunt: orchids! They should be coming into bloom in another 3–4 weeks.

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in Portugal, wildflowers. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to In search of the friar’s cowl

  1. Hick Crone says:

    I thought to myself, that reminds me a lot of skunk cabbage. Of course, I could not remember from my systematic botany days what family my native is in… Lo and behold, Arisarum and Lysichiton are both in Araceae, different subfamilies but still “relatives.”

    I love plants.

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