Lanterns of the Pacific Forests

Skunk cabbage.  Species Lysichiton americanum. Also known as Swamp Lantern. This common and distinctive plant is (to me) a signature species for our area and boasts a few unique features. The two common names speak to the two most interesting features of this plant: its odour and its bright yellow colour.

Personally, I love the smell of skunk cabbage — a smell that lets you know you’re on the west coast. It is somewhat musty, a little skunky, but never overpowering. The flower parts of a skunk cabbage are called the spathe which is the yellow flower-like part that is actually a modified leaf  and the spadix which is the central furry-looking stalk that is covered in lots of tiny flowers. The common name Swamp Lantern likely refers to the fact that the spathe/spadix combination is one of the first flowers to be seen, starting in late winter when the bright yellow colour shines against the deep green leaves or white snow. I’ve also read that these amazing plants can generate heat in the winter, up to about 15ºC above freezing, melting the surrounding snow.

A few days ago I was out for a walk with my brother and we came across absolutely enormous skunk cabbages. These were finished flowering, but the leaves were just incredible.

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3 Comments

Filed under Flora, Posts by Hana

3 responses to “Lanterns of the Pacific Forests

  1. Heather

    I’m big on these too. yum, the smell of spring!

  2. bladerunner5

    I just came back from a trip to Tillamook and Netarts, OR. I saw these for the first time and was just dazzled by all the bright yellow against the greens and browns and grays (it was a seriously stormy weekend!). I’d noticed the similarity in flower shape to calla lilies, so I’d thought these were a variant of a water lily. But I ran across this blog post while looking them up – thanks for the identification!

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