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Sunday, March 15, 2015

HARBINGER OF SPRING -- SKUNK CABBAGE


Lysichiton americanum
A skunk-cabbage -- native plant

Driving along a two lane highway yesterday I noticed some bright yellow spots in some shallow waters beside the road. I stopped to check it out and realized it was skunk-cabbage plants -- a harbinger of spring. Although it wasn't the typical maroon-ish color I was used to seeing -- I knew right away it was skunk-cabbage! I snapped a few photos and went on my way. I was familiar with this plant from when I lived in Michigan so it was a wonderful surprise to find it here in Oregon.


Several skunk cabbage plants glowing in the water.


When I got home I grabbed my new book I had just bought titled Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and MacKinnon. On its pages I found out that Oregon's skunk-cabbage was a glowing yellow and can be found only along areas of the Pacific Northwest coastline. And that is where I was driving -- near the coastline. 
I also did some searching online about the skunk-cabbage plant and found a fine article written by a Craig Holdrege that thinks highly of the skunk-cabbage plant, you can find it here.


And a bit of a native American tale was provided by Pojar and MacKinnon that I will share with you:

In the ancient days, they say, there is no salmon. The Indians had nothing to eat save roots and leaves. Principal among them was the skunk-cabbage. Finally the spring salmon came for the first time. As they passed up the river, a person stood upon the shore and shouted, "Here come our relatives whose bodies are full of eggs! If it had not been for me all the people would have starved." "Who speaks to us?" asked the salmon. "Your uncle Skunk Cabbage," was the reply . . . (Kathlamet tribe, Native American, Haskin 1934 )

So the skunk-cabbage tale can be included as a type of folkway as it became a traditional story within a defined community over time. 

For those of you that live out East where there is still snow -- the skunk-cabbage can grow right up through the snow to wish you a happy spring. So keep looking for possible signs of skunk-cabbage pushing through the snow in natural areas such as a wet meadow. They usually will be a variegated maroon rather than the flashy western yellow. 



22 comments:

  1. My parents knew all the roadside plants, but I didn't pay enough attention and haven't learned since. I do know one bulb of the spring variety has leafed in my garden and it's time to get the bird seed hulls off the anemone so their little blue and red faces can come through.

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    1. Joanne -- I am a novice too when it comes identifying wild plants. Know a few -- but there are so many that I doubt I will ever be as knowledgeable as your parents. Your garden has always been so refreshing to read about. Nice to hear it is awakening from its winter slumber. thanks -- barbara

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  2. Now you make me want to get out and take a walk!

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    1. Tabor -- I imagine in your surroundings there is perhaps a few skunk-cabbage plants bursting through the soil to greet the outside world. In Michigan I used to find them in wet wooded areas. They always surprised me when I came upon them as the other wildflowers were still sleeping in their soil beds. thanks -- barbara

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  3. Hey, excellent find! I wouldn't have known those yellow blooms as the same plant as maroon ones. Loved the story about the salmon also. THanks!

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    1. Barbara -- I love stories that accompany an experience. Native American stories are so rich and varied. Nice to hear that you enjoyed the salmon story. Perhaps you have run across the skunk-cabbage this season? thanks -- barbara

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  4. I like this Uncle Skunk Cabbage...It feels very special to see a plant that has been noticed over the years and included in Native American folklore...a plant that lives on through ages and shines in early spring...such a contrast to the still gray nature...a plant that nourished people before the abundance of spring and summer arrived...I will start looking for marroon skunk cabbage. And now I ask: how did it get its name? Thank you Barbara. PS Your comment about my colorful vegetables in the midst of our snowy gray was great. I hadn't consciously thought of that but with out latest snow last night, it's truer than ever...

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    1. Rita --- to answer your question. The plant is called skunk-cabbage because its smell is putrid. Now in my few findings of the plant I have never smelled a putrid smell. Perhaps one has to handle it to experience the smell? I found quite a bit of history on the plant when I was researching for this post. One that I didn't include is that bears when they first come out of hibernation love to find this plant blooming as it provides nutritional food for them when they are exceptionally hungry. I always find it amazing how mother nature synchronizes our world to benefit all. She is "caretaker supreme". thanks -- barbara

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  5. Great capture! It immediately reminded me of my childhood in Indiana.

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    1. Melissa -- Oh I bet it did. If you walked the fields and woods in the early spring near a wetland you surely found these beautiful and usually formed plants waiting for your observation. You were practically my neighbor at one time -- Michigan/Indiana. thanks -- barbara

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  6. Skunk cabbage still buried in a foot of snow here! and looks very different from those!

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    1. Furry Gnome -- I can imagine that skunk-cabbage would still underground in your cold area. Soon it will be melting and spring will greet you in all the natural ways. thanks --barbara

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  7. No doubt you were glad to see that spot of green! Also nice to read the Native American history about the plant.

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    1. Michelle -- In this part of Oregon we have green all year round. Folks mow their grass in Feb. But the deciduous trees do lost their leaves. The winter temps are around the 40s usually.Now on the eastern side of Oregon that is where you find the cold temps and the snow. Not to say we don't experience snow once in a blue moon. but it usually is light and doesn't stay. Thanks -- barbara

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  8. I don't think I've seen these here in Alabama. Do they have a pungent skunky smell? if so...i'm kinda glad we don't :) love love love the Native American folk tale.

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    1. Starr -- I have read where they do have a skunky smell but of those that I have come across in Michigan and Oregon I did not smell the skunky smell. Maybe I didn't get close enough or I didn't touch them so I was spared. Glad you liked the Native American tale. Oh -- on your last post I forgot to say how much I liked that spider's web -- it was like none I have ever seen. thanks -- barbara

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  9. I think we must have skunk cabbage. If we do it's probably the purple kind and probably along the edges of the marshes -- does it like salt marshes? I'll watch for it. I never knew it had so many uses. I keep learning -- that's nice. Thanks for making me aware of it.

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    1. June -- I do not think that skunk-cabbage grows in salt water. I am can safely say I really have not heard of it growing there. Probably check with your local nature conservancy. You call it purple and some call it maroon color for east coast skunk-cabbage. Let me know if you find out if it does grow in salt water. I did a bit of research online after I read your comment and could not find any answer to the salt water question. thanks -- barbara

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  10. I remember seeing a lot of skunk cabbage at Cannon Beach. We had a cabin there when we lived in Portland and spent many a weekend at that place.

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    1. Hattie -- Canon Beach is a "top notch" place to spend weekends. How wonderful for you and your husband to have had your cabin there. I am thinking that the skunk-cabbage you saw was in fresh water rather than salt water at your place. June (above) poses a good question -- does skunk-cabbage grow in salt water. Frankly I have never seen it grow in salt water however I am far from an expert on this plant. Maybe you have an answer? -- thanks barbaara

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  11. Nasty name, but I'll take the 'hint' of spring. Send it this way, please.

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    1. Birdman -- A nasty name for a beautiful plant. Someone who named this plant had a vendetta apparently, against this plant. thanks -- barbara

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