Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pungent spring.


Western skunk cabbage at Burnaby Lake Regional Park.

In low-lying deciduous or mixed forests, along ditches and at lake edges, wherever there is deep, dark muck, there may be western skunk cabbage, Lysichiton americanus. This plant is found throughout the northwest, from Alaska to Northern California. It's hard to miss, so enthusiastically green before most of the forest comes to life.

It has grand leaves that grow to more than a metre in height. The leaves were used to wrap fish for baking by First Nations peoples. The roots are eaten by bears.

Its arum-like flower (it is in the Araceae) gives it its name. The flowering body, the spadix, which is enclosed in the hood-like spathe, emits a skunky-dead-thing stench that attracts small flies and other early pollinators. It's as much or more a smell of spring as the lilacs that dot suburbia, and certainly more memorable. It is always fun to walk through a patch with a group of children, who are close to the ground and possess mercilessly keen olfactory abilities.

Eww, something stinks!

Ahhh, breathe deep. It's spring!

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