Saturday, May 28, 2011

I know where the skunk cabbage grows

I may not know where the bergamot grows, but I could point you toward some healthy specimens of skunk cabbage.
Photo by Patricia Talson
I maintain that the version growing here in the Pacific Northwest doesn't stink like rotting-flesh as does its obnoxious eastern cousin (but I'm willing to admit that spring allergies might render me senseless). It smells more musky than stinky, though bruising the leaves can produce more of a skunk smell.

The western skunk cabbage can release a sweet scent to lure in bees, or the muskier one to attract beetles. And get this: the plant releases different odors at different temperatures, depending on which pollinator is more likely to be out and about.

After a long rainy winter, I'm so glad to see these cheery, neon-yellow plants yoo-hooing up out of the muck to proclaim spring, I couldn't care less what they smell like.

9 comments:

  1. I've always had an affinity for plants with large leaves, so I'm glad to see the cheery yellow plants peeking out this time of year as well. The smell is more of a familiar friend than an unpleasant odor.

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  2. I remember white-calyxed skunk-cabbage from my youth in the mountains. Different species or faulty memory?

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  3. We've got them in our backyard, though they are already done flowering. I've noticed that they smell a bit if you touch them, but even then I agree with you- the stench is only mild (does that still make it a stench?).

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  4. I too recall the bright yellow skunk cabbages that bloomed in the wet forest lands of my youth. Like bright candles they flared to announce spring had come to the woods. Oh to be six years old again!

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  5. Yeah, those leaves grow to 3 feet long and 1 foot wide--or bigger. Daniel Mathews ("Cascade-Olympic Natural History") says they are sometimes called "Indian wax paper" due to their use by local tribes to wrap berries or bulbs for storage or steam cooking.

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  6. I've seen photos of white ones, but can't recall having seen them in the wild. I went snooping around for info about this, and I think the white ones are a related species originally from Russia--purposely planted by someone and spread from there?

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  7. Skunk Cabbage has always been one of my favorites. We have a lot at our beach place, and I have taken numerous photos with intent to paint, but only did one painting that was so terrible I guess it stifled that particular muse. I need to try again.

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  8. We don't have them is our 80 feet of swamp surrounding Beavercreek. Down the road is a healthy stand of Camas--soo pretty.

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  9. Wow, Alice--one of their nicknames is swamp lantern--guess you're not the only one to think of them as bright lights shining in the woods.

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