Plant of the Week
Western Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus)
By Robinson Sudan
The leaves of this monocot grow to 135 centimeters long and 80 centimeters wide and are the largest of any native plant in the region. They grow from a rhizome that can reach over 30 centimeters long and 5 cenitmeters wide. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic is the bright yellow spathe, enclosing a pungent spadix that emerges early in the spring.
Lysichiton americanus is found in wet areas, for example along streams and in swamps. Its range extends from Cook Inlet, Alaska, south through British Colombia and the Pacific Northwest states to Santa Cruz county, California, with isolated populations in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Though this species is not known to be threatened, a habitat in which it is a characteristic species (Picea sitchensis / Cornus sericea / Lysichiton americanus Forest) is listed as Imperiled. Lysichiton americanus has also been introduced to many countries of northern Europe where it is currently rare but considered to have potential as a competitive invasive if established.
Lysichiton americanus is pollinated by scavenging flies and beetles which it attracts with its pungent odor. This odor is also the source for its common name.
It was purportedly used by Native Americans as a food source during times of famine.