The Story of the Swamp Lantern

Swamp lantern is a beautiful name for our wild western skunk cabbage or Lysichiton americanus. My first experience with this smelly beauty was when I was five years old and I was walking with my mother in the early evening along a logging skid trail.

Swamp Lantern by Terrill Welch 2013_03_23 408

We were living in our small portable bunk house right on the edge of the logging landing where the cats skidded the logs in and the loaders loaded them up on the logging trucks for their long trip from the middle-of-no-where in Cariboo country British Columbia to the sawmill in Williams Lake. The close proximity to the working logging area meant that we had to stay inside the small two room cabin on skids during working hours. How my mother did this with two young children and a baby I can’t even begin to image.

Skunk Cabbage by Terrill Welch 2013_03_23 392

My mother loved to be outside as much as we did so when the whistle blew and the last machine shut down we were out the door and walking the nearest skid trail that went through the swamp area behind the landing and then beyond. In the low light of the heavily treed forest, infused with dank freshly turned earth, next to the pungent swamp, is where I encountered my first swamp lantern. Gorgeous!

skunk cabbage early spring by Terrill Welch 2013_03_23 386

The blossom petals are an unbelievably bright, almost opaque yellow accompanied by cabbage-like exotic tropical foliage. Each plant also has a distinctively phallic stamen that is somehow unavoidable more pronounced in any compositional photograph than when in the presence of  the plant itself. However, all in all, this is a most beautiful native announcement of early spring. But after these beauties have been blooming for a while – the smell! Once it has traveled up your nasal passages, you will never, ever forget – skunk cabbage!

swamp beauty by Terrill Welch 2013_03_23 357

Our western variety is not good to eat because as it contains calcium oxalate crystals which would be much like eating crushed glass. This caution does not apply if you are a bear. The swamp lantern or skunk cabbage is an important part of bear’s spring laxative tonic when it come out of hibernation.

The plants large, waxy leaves were important to indigenous people for food preparation and storage. They were commonly used to line berry baskets and to wrap around whole salmon and other foods when baked under a fire. It is also used to cure sores and swelling.



What wild spring flowers are powerful connections to one of your childhood memories?


P.S. Three more paintings have sold over the weekend but I will tell you more about this in another post soon. All the best of Easter Monday to you!


© 2013 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

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12 thoughts on “The Story of the Swamp Lantern

  1. As a kid, my friends and I always called it skunk cabbage. I never knew it had such a lovely name as swamp lantern! They were abundant in the part of North Vancouver where I grew up. I lived halfway up Mount Fromme and in the 60s and 70s the houses sat spread out on acreage and three blocks up from where I lived, they stopped altogether. We had lots of shady, damp creek areas for them to grow. But, even though I haven’t seen any in quite a while, I sure remember the smell!

    Congrats on the sale of your paintings!

    • Thank you Diane! My paintings seem to have a large enough following these days that people are waiting for “their painting” to appear and when it does. Well, that is it. The painting is off on a new life of its own.

      What a great story to tell us about your skunk cabbage experience – and I can imagine you do remember the smell 🙂 Thank you for taking time to stop in today.

  2. We were always looking for trillium and wild rhododendrons in the wooded walks – early spring memories. In North Carolina we went on Dogwood hikes and hanging out all night in the pasture to protect the newly born calves…

    We have a lot of skunk cabbage, your name is much lovelier, and wow does it smell. We used to listen for the peepers to give us notice that it was hiking time, but they are gone from our house now.

    We have found some trillium down the bluff at this house, but in the state they are so difficult to find any more and the wild rhododendrons too, because so many people have picked and removed them to make a nickel that they are truly rare finds now.

    In the Eastern part of the State we would be scouting for wild asparagus by the irrigation ditches this time of year.

    What lovely photographs and good story telling. Thank you

    • You are most welcome Patricia and it is so great to have your stories about hunting for other other early spring beauties. I love the dog wood blossoms. There are just a few here on Mayne Island and I am not sure if they are native or planted but the Dogwood is the British Columbia flower. I wish your frogs would come back! So sad to hear they are gone.

  3. Terrill – I love the word picture you painted in your post today; so vivid, I could actually see it in my mind’s eye as the story unfolded.

    You asked, What wild spring flowers are powerful connections to one of your childhood memories?

    Until age 5, we lived in the Highlands of Scotland where Foxglove grows rampant. These flowers are as deadly as they are gorgeous. My sister and I would wear the blooms on our fingers like thimbles. Yes, we were warned time and again not to, but did we listen? Of course not!

    Foxgloves are deadly because of the digitalis they contain. Digitalis contains cardiac glycosides that when ingested, directly affects the heart muscles, causing a heart attack. It’s a wonder my sister and I are alive to tell about it.

    • You and your sister were darn lucky Laurie! I do let the wild foxgloves grow in my garden but if young children come to visit, I unceremoniously pull them up and throw them over the bank out of fear for their poisonous properties. Their beauty is just too enticing for curious small hands.

  4. Thank you for this nature study. Beautiful photos!
    To answer, pussy willows
    Sick and tired of long, harsh Manitoba winters, I’d look for them in eager anticipation. When I spied the first one, my heart would spring because I knew Spring had arrived.
    I still remember a chat I learnt in elementary school…
    I am a little pussy
    I live down by the lane
    I’ll always be a pussy
    I’ll never be a cat
    Because I’m a pussy willow
    Now what do you think of that
    Meow. Meow. Meow.
    Happy Spring!

    • Oh Sam. How wonderful! Now if I could just find a way to slip into an empty seat somewhere near you. I will be on the look out to see what you think. Tulips and dandelions is it? Perfect 🙂

  5. Hi Terrill…Just today I was reminded of a dear childhood memory. I had not remembered this for a long time but when someone else said the name ‘Ernest Farnsworth’ a flood of pictures came back to me.

    I can still see in my mind Mr. Farnsworth working in his flower garden…he had a white picket fence and I can see the pink hollyhocks and digitalis up against the fence.

    It was such a vivid memory so am happy to read about your remembrances too.

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