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Of Skunk Cabbages…and Ice

March 23, 2013

Cold rushing water, a warm young sun, the smells of life and earth – and colour.  Spring is back.  Yesterday I spotted the first bright yellow spikes of skunk cabbage. You know the plant – at least by that musky skunk-like odour.  Later there will be the vibrant green of the large “heads” of skunk cabbage, but right now yellow spikes, or spathes, are just emerging from the underground stems. They are pushing aside winter plant debris and waking the marshes.  Apparently skunk cabbage spathes produce heat that can melt the late spring ice. And so the skunk cabbage is the first plant to emerge in spring.

There are two plants called skunk cabbage in Canada: I am talking about the western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanum), sometimes called the yellow skunk cabbage, that grows here in British Columbia. Both the western and eastern skunk cabbage are part of the Arum family.

Bears dig up and eat the rhizomes of the skunk cabbage.  The bears may not be out of their dens for another month or so, but I thought of them and looked for bear sign (just in case) when I spotted those first few spikes of skunk cabbage.

by an early spring torrent

by an early spring torrent

just emerged

just emerged

Skunk Cabbage: as the marsh comes alive

Skunk Cabbage: as the marsh comes alive

the green yet to come

Skunk Cabbage: the green yet to come

early spring ice sculpture

early spring ice sculpture

ice and water in spring

ice and water in spring

The appearance of the first skunk cabbage may herald spring, but the winter has not quite lost its grip.  The ice sculptures near the spring torrents shown above are beautiful, but I was far more excited to see the skunk cabbage: the first emergent plant of spring.

all writing and photos on this blog copyright Joanne Siderius 2013.

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