Lords-and-ladies

Lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) with its bright autumn berries, is a valuable perennial for shady borders, but its tendency to self-seed means it can become a nuisance.

Save to My scrapbook
The flowers of Arum maculatum

Quick facts

Common name Lords-and-ladies, cuckoo pint
Botanical name Arum maculatum
Areas affected Shady or woodland edge beds and borders, uncultivated ground
Main causes Self-seeding and distribution of rhizome fragments
Timing Leaves and flower spathes from spring and berries in the autumn, but tubers persist in the soil year-round

What is lords-and-ladies?

Lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) is a shade-loving tuberous perennial, native to UK woodlands and hedgerows, which can often become established in gardens. Self-seeding readily, it can take over a border under the right conditions and is difficult to control.

The related Italian arum (A. italicum) and its forms, with marbled white-veined leaves, can also become a problem in gardens. Grown widely as attractive ground-cover, it too can overtake borders in favourable conditions. Control in the same way as for lords-and-ladies.

Lords-and-ladies have an interesting flower structure and are pollinated by flies. The orange-red berries are eaten by birds, providing a good source of food in late summer and autumn. Having eaten the berries, birds will  then disperse the seed, with new plants often emerging under hedges or in ground under areas where birds perch.

Birds in your garden

Birds in your garden

This page looks at options for gardeners when lords-and-ladies are becoming a problem.

Appearance

A white tuberous rhizome throws up large arrow-shaped and commonly black-spotted leaves to 45cm in spring.

The flowers, which appear in April and May, are borne at the base of a cylindrical structure called a spadix which is enveloped by a green to purple-tinged membranous hood called a spathe. The flowers are followed in autumn by a conspicuous spike of orange-red berries.

All parts of the plant are poisonous.

The problem

Plants can spread quickly by self-seeding and the unintentional distribution of rhizome fragments around the garden, for example in home compost. The deep rooting tubers multiply each year and are difficult to remove entirely, with fragments left behind in the soil regenerating quickly.

Control

The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner. 

Cultural control

Tackling large infestations of lords-and-ladies in a well-planted bed can be difficult. To get rid of it completely requires time and patience. Try the following non-chemical approaches:

  • Digging up tuberous rhizomes regularly can help to limit spread of the weed but is time consuming and unlikely to eradicate it completely, as any missed fragments will regenerate. If undertaken ensure all weed material is destroyed and not added to home compost bins
  • Laying opaque mulches can help to smother weed growth. These should be in place for at least two growing seasons. Where other plants are growing try a deep (15cm/6in) bark mulch instead

Weedkiller control

There is little recorded data on the chemical susceptibility of this weed but success might be had by applying SBK Brushwood Killer (containing triclopyr) in spring when there is an abundance of leafy growth. 

A systemic glyphosate-based herbicide (Round-up Ultra, Doff Advanced Concentrated Weedkiller, SBM Job done General Purpose Weedkiller or Westland Resolva Pro Extra Tough Weedkiller) would also likely be effective, but several applications may be needed. To improve the uptake of glyphosate, bruise weed foliage with the back of a spade or by treading before treatment.

When using glyphosate take care to avoid leaves and other green parts of all garden plants as it is not selective in action. Used with care, glyphosate is safe to use around the base of non-suckering woody plants, as long as the bark is woody, brown and mature. Glyphosate is not active through the soil and there is therefore no risk garden plants will absorb it through their roots.

Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.

Download

Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see sections 1a and 4)

Links

Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillers
Chemicals: using a sprayer
Chemicals: using safely and effectively
Weeds: non-chemical control

Join the RHS today and get 12 months for the price of 9

Join now

Gardeners' calendar

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

You may also like

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.