Lisichiton americanus by any other name…

Oct 1, 2016 | 5 comments

Intrepid Travelers

Intrepid Travelers

We had a lively discussion last evening at our Friday Night gathering.  Actually, I was the lively part and probably others thought I bordered on rude.  Ironically, it was my friend Sue Grennan who had prompted my outburst and not ten minutes beforehand she had spoken about our trip to Quebec saying, “You couldn’t have had five more disparate individuals and we didn’t have one moment of tension among us during the entire time.”  Which was absolutely true.

Then, however, the conversation turned to quilting and the progress being made with the Quilt Guild’s annual block-of-the-month project.  This year it’s Sue who is in charge and our Friday Nights have been peripherally involved.

Last March - the design began

Last March – the design began

Months ago when Sue was getting her thoughts together, she shared with us that she’d like to do something involving local wildflowers.  Kathleen Sayce was here and offered to give Sue a list of possibilities which turned out to include other information as in where each plant can be found and at what time of year.  Tucker Wachsmuth said he’d photograph the plants and then render drawings which Sue could use to turn into patterns.

Image by Jim Riley

Image by Jim Riley

And so, the collaboration grew and the Guild’s block-of-the-month project began.  I’m not sure which month the quilters are working on now because Sue is always a few months ahead – a very fortunate circumstance given the fact that she fell and shattered her right shoulder some weeks ago. (She was still wearing a sling on our trip and had to forewarn the airport security folks that she has twelve screws in her arm.)

Last night someone (maybe me) asked how the project was going and in the discussion Sue mentioned that she is considering another name for Skunk Cabbage.  “Perhaps Swamp Lily,” she said.

Probably predictably (if you know me) I erupted.  “What’s wrong with ‘Skunk Cabbage?” I demanded.  “That’s what we call it here.  Why do we have to sanitize and gentrify everything?  We can’t even say that someone has ‘died’.  We say they ‘crossed over’ or ‘passed’ for Heaven’s sake.  We have to evade reality with euphemisms!”  Well… something like that.

Skunk Cabbage in Summer

Skunk Cabbage in Summer

In Sue’s defense, Wikipedia also lists these names for Lysichiton americanus: western skunk cabbage, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage and swamp lantern.  I argue:  A project about local plants should involve local names.

Much to the amazement of some of us, it turned out that several of the folks gathered in our library (including Sue) had never seen or smelled Skunk Cabbage.  How I wished that we were just bordering on Spring rather than Autumn so we could go for a walk along the verge on Oysterville Road or along the ditches almost anyplace and see those harbingers of the season cheerfully poking their heads up.  It’s a plan for next year… if we remember.

5 Comments

  1. marjorie cochrane

    One thing I gleaned from journalism classes at UO was that people don’t pass on or go to their Heavenly Father, they die! And that’s what you write when you do an obit. Glad you agree. (and I like Skunk Cabbage.) Margie

    Reply
    • sydney

      I’ve never given much thought to where I learned to stay far away from euphemisms, Margie, but I think you’ve hit upon it! I was a journalism major at Stanford as well as at San Rafael High School (to the extent that we actually had ‘majors’.) and that is undoubtedly where my training came from. Plus, my parents weren’t much for “gussying up” reality, as my mom called it. They spoke plainly about almost everything… except for the summer when I was away at camp and they told me that they had given my puppy, Zipper, to a family who lived on a farm. It was years (probably a dozen) before I learned the truth — that Zipper had been run over by a car on busy Encinal Avenue. I don’t think I ever forgave my folks for not telling me the truth…

      Reply
  2. Cuzzin Ralph

    I also agree with the term “Skunk Cabbage” for the smelly, spring-blooming flower—that’s the only term I’ve ever heard used for it in Washington state. I recall walking around the cranberry fields near Grayland when I was razor clam digging there with sis Cheryl and her hubby Virg—just after I flew out to surprise Dad at his 95th birthday in March 2013—and there were numerous skunk cabbages with their bright yellow blooms making things much less gloomy in that chilly, rainy season of the year. By the way there are two completely different species with that distinctive smell—the eastern skunk cabbage with the purplish-brown blooms as compared to the western skunk cabbage with the bright yellow blooms. Now living in Virginia, I’m surprised I haven’t seen the eastern variety as I walk in the woods near swamps all year long.

    Reply
  3. Cindi

    I am a particular fan of Skunk Cabbage. Its bright yellow lanterns are beautiful and fun to photograph. I am not sure if the group planning the quilt in the above article is from the East (Quebec) or from the West (Washington). The third picture in the article showing the Spring shoots of a plant is indeed a photo of Symplocarpus foetidus. You can see that the foliage is mottled purple. That plant differs quite a bit from our western Skunk Cabbage. The type we have out here on the West coast is Lisichiton americanus. It has solid green leaves, can grow easily to four feet high, bright yellow flowers and smells to high heaven. The final picture is western Skunk Cabbage. The quilt block shown in progress is Lisichiton americanus, and I definitely hope it makes it into the quilt ! I hope the readers of this blog appreciate the information about the two forms of Skunk Cabbage.

    Reply
    • sydney

      Thanks for all that great information, Cindi. I have updated my blog accordingly.

      Reply

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