Additional notes (click to expand)


This curious plant, with frightening purple spathes, commemorates the British physician Dr William Griffith (1810–45), surgeon and botanist. Griffith was born at Ham Common, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, and qualifi ed in medicine at London University, where he was taught botany by John Lindley. He contributed to botanical publications in Nathaniel Wallich’s Plantae Asiaticae rariores (1832) and his extraordinary talents were recognised even then. In 1832 he started work in Madras as assistant-surgeon to the East India Company. In 1835 he accompanied Dr Wallich to botanise in the forests of Assam. Griffiths collected around 12,000 plants (and fish and birds), walking through Burma, Bhutan and Afghanistan, frequently brought down by fevers, with the object of producing a flora of India. His travels and his re-discovery of the jadeite mines in Burma (in 1837) are described in his Journals of travels in Assam, Burma, Bootan, Afghanistan, and the neighbouring countries (1847). In 1842–4, he became superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden when Dr Wallich was away, and then took up a medical post in Malacca. He died shortly afterwards of hepatitis, aged 35, and his flora was never completed. He lived his short life to the full, enjoyed fi shing, drew beautifully, and his descriptions of people record a world long vanished. He also has an orchid, Dendrobium griffithianum, named after him.
Oakeley, Dr. Henry. (2012). Doctors in the Medicinal Garden. Plants named after physicians. Royal College of Physicians. page 24 link


Arisaema griffithii of the family Araceae hails from the eastern Himalayas. In the Medicinal Garden it grows happily in a sheltered border in partial shade. In early summer, a snake-like spathe with blotched petioles dramatically appears. Well-drained, humus-rich soil is required as the corms will rot if too wet or cold. We mulch annually with well-rotted manure (by Clare Beacham).
Oakeley, Dr. Henry. (2012). Doctors in the Medicinal Garden. Plants named after physicians. Royal College of Physicians. page 24 link


All plants in Aracaeae are toxic. The main toxin is calcium oxalate, present as needle-like raphides inside specialised cells throughout the plant, called idioblasts, which when chewed fire the needles into the tongue, gums and throat of the eater. The needles cause thousands of micro-wounds, probably also introduce oxalic acid into damaged tissues, and additionally cause massive histamine release and cause extreme pain and swelling.
Neuwinger, HD. (1996). African Ethnobotany: Poisons & Drugs, Chapman & Hall page 221

Geographical distribution

  • Asia-Temperate, China, Tibet
  • Asia-Tropical, Indian Subcontinent, India
  • Asia-Tropical, Indian Subcontinent, Nepal

Arisaema griffithii Schott

Genus: Arisaema
Species: griffithii Schott
Distribution summary: Nepal to West Bengal, Tibet
Habit: Perennial
Hardiness: H5 - Hardy; cold winter
Garden status: Not currently grown
Reason for growing: Commemorative

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