One of Spring’s first flowers creates a stink

Believe it or not, our Spring is almost over.

Dennis Horwood

Believe it or not, our Spring is almost over.

Our long evenings and warmer daytime temperatures bring us every closer to the summer solstice.

A few flowering plants also signal that spring is coming to an end.  Skunk cabbage, one of our earliest spring flowers has changed in a big way.

In late March and early April, the melting snow and reveals a dreary understorey of dead grass, leaves and winter debris.

Almost overnight, however, the marshy spots are dominated by a brilliant yellow spathe, one of the first spring flowers to appear after our long winter.

The overwinter insects easily locate these aromatic flowers so pollination never seems to be a problem.

The flowers bloom for a relatively short time before they fade away giving way to a tall, club-like seed head.

Over the next few months, the seed head almost seems to disappear amidst the most luxuriant leaves found just about anywhere on the continent.

Although there is only one flower, each plant produces multiples of leaves. Anchored in moist soil or swamp, the leaves reach upwards of over a metre.

They never seem starved for water or nutrients so the leaves continue to growth in height and width.

In some places they completely dominate the undergrowth shutting out other less hardy plants.  At this time of year, most swamps, sloughs and moist bottomlands have ample numbers of these huge plants.

It would seem that something this large and so abundant would also be either edible or useful in some capacity.

Alas, this is not often the case.

The leaves contain crystals of calcium oxalate, which if eaten fresh, leave a burning sensation in our mouth.

First Nations knew this only too well.  They used the leaves as liners for food steaming pits, baskets, or covering of other foods.  If the leaves are dried or steamed the ‘hot’ crystals are broken down and makes them much more palatable.

Today, skunk cabbage is pretty much left alone.

Bears have been known to dig for the roots, usually soon after emerging from their winter dens.

Deer, insects, and possibly a few smaller rodents nibble away at the leaves cleaning some meager sustenance.

No doubt they have also provided shelter or even a hiding place for ground birds, salamanders or toads.

On our trails and walkways around town, there will be plenty of skunk cabbage leaves that will last throughout the summer.

The Pine Creek trail in particular has some thick patches that they share with the more delicate ferns.  Hikers will find an abundance of both along the entire trail.

Enjoy the change from spring to summer and the plants that also bring on the new season.


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