Signs of Spring: Skunk Cabbage
Spring is here! And while the weather hasn't yet satiated our desire and need for Vitamin D, there are sure signs that spring is in bloom. To get us in the mood, all week we'll be featuring a new sign of spring in this space. Yesterday, we blogged about the first Volunteer Vacation in the Hoh Rainforest. Today special guest Kim Brown takes on a true harbinger of spring: skunk cabbage.
Spring is here! And while the weather hasn't yet satiated our desire and
need for Vitamin D, there are sure signs that spring is in bloom. To
get us in the mood, all week we'll be featuring a new sign of spring in
this space. Yesterday, we blogged about the first Volunteer Vacation in the Hoh Rainforest. Today special guest Kim Brown takes on a true harbinger of spring: skunk cabbage.
I look forward to the first skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), or swamp lantern, each spring. The beautiful bright yellow “flower,” or bract, practically glows! The leaves are small during the flowering stage, but by mid-summer can be 3 feet long (or longer, if you’re on the North Fork Sauk trail!).
You’ll know when you’re near them by a skunk-like, heady, earthy odor (“fragrance” is too delicate a word). Bugs and beetles are attracted by the odor, and hoochi-mama! they breed inside of swamp lanterns! In the process of breeding, insects wallow around like pigs in mud and help to pollinate the plant! Examine a flower closely, and you’ll see ants and small beetles crawling around on the sticky, yellow bract and the cone-like flower it surrounds.
Swamp lanterns are very picturesque – it’s a strong-willed hiker who doesn’t cave in to eventually photograph at least one swamp lantern per hike. Swamp lanterns are surrounded by other wet-loving vegetation and trees and flowers, such as cedar, red elderberry, salmonberry, and tiny, delicate little mitreworts, making a pretty local landscape worthy of long pauses.
And the longer you pause and look, the more you see in these wetlands! (swamp lanterns are obligate plants, meaning there’s a 99% chance you’re looking at a wetland). Often, a wetland full of swamp lanterns has a natural buffer of thorn-laden salmonberry and/or devils club surrounding it, making successful photographic opportunities either heroic or idiotic. Both are painful.
After the flower is gone, the leaves, unfurled in their full glory, are themselves a work of art – backlit with raindrop patterns showing through them, or another leaf casting a shadow upon it. It’s fun to have a friend stand next to one and take a picture, “giant skunk cabbage leaf, hiker for scale.”
In fall, the decaying leaves make yet another work of art – yellow and brown, one flopped over another, and plastered upon the whole are smaller other leaves, making a beautiful leaf collage.
Recommended places to see them: Beaver Lake trail (Darrington), Lake 22, North Fork Sauk (inaccessible this year), and Heather Lake. WTA’s volunteer writer, Sylvia Feder, wrote an article about skunk cabbage in the recent Washington Trails magazine. Be sure to check it out!
"DanaFranks" on Apr 06, 2011 03:48 PM