Skunk Cabbage: Don’t Get Bogged Down in Its Smell

Rising from a rosette of large, fleshy green leaves (some more than a yard long) is a yellow-green spadix (the plant’s flower-filled spike), behind which a rich yellow bract, called a spathe, rises like a protective hood. Another name for the plant is swamp lantern, and that is the effect created by the luminous spathes as they shine brightly in the shadowed forest. Here, thousands of plants choke the stream canyon, creating a glowing flow of light like some incandescent river, tempting viewers to approach them even at the cost of traversing the muddy bogs where the plant makes its home. When flowering, skunk cabbage produces a memorable odor, intended to attract particular pollinators, that indeed justifies its name. The leaves, however, carry no such aroma and were used by certain Indian tribes for lining berry baskets and for wrapping berries and bulbs for steaming.

Skunk Cabbage by Linden Lentz

Surprisingly few residents of the Emerald counties recognize skunk cabbage. According to this site, it is described as

Rising from a rosette of large, fleshy green leaves (some more than a yard long) is a yellow-green spadix (the plant’s flower-filled spike), behind which a rich yellow bract, called a spathe, rises like a protective hood. Another name for the plant is swamp lantern, and that is the effect created by the luminous spathes as they shine brightly in the shadowed forest. Here, thousands of plants choke the stream canyon, creating a glowing flow of light like some incandescent river, tempting viewers to approach them even at the cost of traversing the muddy bogs where the plant makes its home. When flowering, skunk cabbage produces a memorable odor, intended to attract particular pollinators, that indeed justifies its name. The leaves, however, carry no such aroma and were used by certain Indian tribes for lining berry baskets and for wrapping berries and bulbs for steaming.

Humboldt actually has a trail in the Prairie Creek Redwood National Park named after the …uh…aromatic plants. The flowers are at their best in March but can still be enjoyed this month.

Let us know your favorite place to photograph these exotic florae.

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