Thoughts and updates from Alice.
Skunk Cabbage and Other Early Signs of Spring in Coastal Maine
Spring is starting up all over MidCoast region of Maine. The pussywillows have passed, the peepers are peeping, osprey are back together in their nests and woodland birds are pairing off. Earlier than ever before, the barn swallow pairs are swooping and diving over my fields trying to decide on a nest box. Sadly I can't capture the swallows flying or the peepers on camera.
I can however share what most people never notice - the progression of the skunk cabbage as it emerges from the winter snow covering. The snow will start to melt around the tip of the dark purple bud that is pushing up through the mossy wet earth. Eventually there will be a small ball of deep purple and with bright green splotches that fade to ivory colored. On a warm spring day, the covering will open to reveal a small bloom.
Soon after blooming with the snow all melted, the green leaf shoots come up and begin to unfurl. There is no smell with the blooms, but as the green leaves become more open and in large clumps.
Some of our native americans would eat the new leaves after boiling for at least 1/2 hour with 2 or more changes of water so that the long crystals of cacium oxalate called raphide are turned into a startch matrix. If you don't boil and change the water, the raphide will painfully embed in mucous tissues and burn. Never eat it raw! numerous and older the smell comes out.
One other observation - I have noticed that if there is skunk cabbage there will be no Marsh Marigolds. They are also found in swampy areas but they don't like the same areas. Do start to think about going fiddlehead hunting and getting a great dinner. While you are out looking check for trillium in different varieties. Don't be tempted to dig up and transplant any of these wild flowers, they are particular about where they live.