Western Skunk Cabbage

aka Swamp Lantern (appropriate, given the very bright yellow spathe)

Lysichiton americanum

Guest author: Don Gunther, Oregon Master Naturalist   Photography: Jane Wilson, Oregon Master Naturalist

This is another early spring-blooming wildflower.

A spadex in a spathe… I like the way that rolls off the tongue. The spadex, the club shaped structure, is packed with tiny flowers that are pollinated by various flies and beetles which are attracted to the somewhat fetid fragrance (I don’t find it that unpleasant).

Like other members of the Arum family, this plant contains calcium oxalate crystals in specialized cells called idioblasts. Some of these crystals are quite sharp; they are the same crystals found in kidney stones. It has been theorized that this is to deter herbivores from eating its large, succulent leaves when few other plants are leafed out in late winter and early spring.

Apparently cooking skunk cabbage neutralizes the calcium oxalate and renders the plant at least palatable, if not very delectable.

Bon Appetit.

Note: This was a fun post to create in collaboration with a fellow Oregon Master Naturalist. http://oregonmasternaturalist.org/