Spring Love Affair: Skunk Cabbage

Two Skunk Cabbages!

If you get down into the low wet places beyond where the streetlights shine, then the early Spring has some special treats for you. One of the most lovely of these is the pale, exposed flower of the Skunk Cabbage. It is one of the earliest flowering plants to poke up out of the ground, and is already very developed by now.

Like many of its close relatives, Skunk Cabbage grows a fleshy club of flowers with a special leaf around it that is called a spathe. Over the past few months, the purple-green spathes emerged from the mud, with the flower clubs inside. Now, the spathes are opening, but they continue to shield the flowers, like a hand cupping a candle flame. We read that the spathe guides airflow around the flower, creating a little tropical microclimate for the blooms.

Skunk cabbage is probably best known for the sweetish, gross smell they give off, especially when the leaves are broken. But did you know that their leaves, especially when young, become quite delicious after you dry them? After enjoying the flowers, we’ll be back out in those swampy spots again in the next while to clip off a couple of leaves to dry and use as soup base. (But be careful not to harm the plant — it takes many years of growth before a Skunk Cabbage is mature enough to flower.)

Young skunk cabbage

As we found in “Exploring the Spencer: Beverly Swamp”, one of the effects of urban growth has been to completely mess up the watertable in the areas around cities. This means is that there are lots of damp, murky, shady spots in easy reach of the downtown that are just right for Skunk Cabbage. We found these ones in Cootes Paradise, but take a look along the Rail Trail between Wellington and Sandford, or in the Owl Marsh below Ewan Rd in Dundas, or in any other healing, swampy land you can think of.

Have you got a favourite spot to find them?

How many skunk cabbages can you see sprouting in the soil?

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