Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ode......R to the Skunk Cabbage


Or maybe I should have titled this post...EWWWWW de Skunk Cabbage...


Skunk Cabbage is one of the first Spring "flowers" we get. This also tell you that my pasture has some definite boggy areas.


Most people have heard of, if not know personally, the skunk cabbage. It's name is fitting as it has a "pungent, somewhat skunk-like odor". It's odor attracts small flies and other insects for pollination. These insects are in part the same species that are attracted to carrion....not a very endearing similarity.

I decided to read up on the skunk cabbage, as I know very little about it other than the way it looks and smells.

Some of the interesting things that I found out....

It's nickname is Swamp Lantern, which I can understand with it's bright yellow standing out in the bog or woodland.

The western variety is found from Kodiak Island and Cook Inlet, Alaska, south through British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Northern California. It has isolated showings in NE Washington, Northern Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Skunk cabbage can also be found on the East Coast of the US, China, and it can be found growing in marshy areas in England and Scotland.

It is food for bears, who eat it after hibernating as a laxative or cathartic.

It was used by indigenous people as a medicine for burns, injuries, and to cure sores and swelling.

They would also use it in times of famine as a food, where they would eat almost all it's parts. Leaves are supposed to have a somewhat spicy or peppery taste, but I don't believe I will be trying them. If for no other reason than they contain calcium oxalate crystals which will cause a burning sensation to your mouth and tongue. (Makes me wonder if the indigenous people were just that desperate during famine or if they found a way to remove the crystals.....)

The leaves were also used to line berry baskets and to wrap around salmon and other foods when baked under a fire. (Bet that smelled appealing....)

Skunk cabbage can produce heat when flowering. Even melting the snow around it. Skunk cabbage flowers will produce warmth over a period of 12-14 days and remain on an average of 36 degrees F. (20 degrees C) above the outside air temperature. They actually regulate their warmth day or night! (hmmmmm is it an alien or a plant??)

There, that's probably more than you ever cared to know about skunk cabbage, but if you ever go on Jeopardy and they have a question about skunk cabbage it could be your winning answer!

13 comments:

Reddunappy said...

Thats cool I think they are a little bit pretty at least LOL we have a rare type of Arum in our yard under the tulip tree, I shall try to get pics of it when it blooms, its stinky too! Dark purple flower that are 12-16 inches long with the black staimen in the middle.

Grammy said...

They are unique alright. Don't think I want any though. Have a great weekend.

mudranch.com said...

I think that is very interesting! We have them growing in our Alps around here -- I've often thought they were quite beautiful. I also happened upon a bear in the skunk cabbage in the Alps one time, now I know why! You also explained why they are often in their little melted areas of the snow -- Pretty neat plant I'd say! :)

Kay Lodahl said...

I think they are pretty but can't say that I miss them much, Tammy. The uses of the plant are something I have never known before. Interesting. I have a renewed respect now. The heat thing I find fascinating... thanks for the info on this .....

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Well that explains why we don't see Skunk Cabbage in New Mexico.....not a lot of boggy places down here. lol!

And I guess if it's got to stink, at least it cane be pretty to look at. :)

~Lisa

Susan said...

I love finding skunk cabbage. I think it's so pretty when it just starts up out of the ground and the way its leaves unfurl. We have a fair amount of it around here as we live in a boggy area (hence Bear Swamp). There's also a nature preserve near us that has tons of it. It's called Cedar Bog, but it's actually a fen.

I need orange said...

I've heard of skunk cabbage, but had no idea what it looked like. The flowers are very cool!

Thanks for the eddification!

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I think they are beautiful, but I don't get close enough to smell them. :-)

melanie said...

You re-kindled a childhood memory - we had them around all the time when we used to patrol the woods and swamps near our camp...now I can't remember the last time I saw one...they actually are a nice looking plant.

Joanna@BooneDocksWilcox said...

I see those around here but didn't know what they were called, thanks for the info. I think they are pretty.

Jenny Holden said...

How interesting! Thanks for an informative post. Beavers eat them too!

susannassketchbook said...

I remember seeing and smelling skunk cabbages when we lived in British Columbia. They grow to be quite big, don't they? Interesting facts about bears eating them after hibernation and indigenous people eating them in time of famine.

corinne said...

Strangely, I miss Skunk Cabbage! When I was a kid we lived in Connecticut and there was a creek along our property where the Cabbage grew, and I always remember it fondly for some reason! I never knew much about it until now! Thanks for the education :).