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!


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