Spring In The Coastal Forest

Skunk cabbage in wetland
A welcome sign of spring in the coastal forest, besides deciduous plants budding out, are the early flowers.

Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) and white fawn lilies (Erythronium Oregonum) are two early spring flowers that brighten up the dark coastal forest as winter rains begin to give way to sunshine and warmer temperatures.

Skunk cabbage emerges early in wetlands and moist forests throughout Vancouver Island. This unique, tropical-looking flower emits a skunky scent to attract insect pollinators. The bright yellow flower along with its pungent smell is hard to miss, and it is a sight for yellow-starved eyes after long, grey winters.

Skunk cabbage on moist forest floor

Skunk cabbage is edible, and all parts of the plant can be eaten. It contains substances that can be harmful, so caution is required.

White fawn lilies gracing a mossy, fern-covered rock face

White Fawn lilies are delicate white flowers that also make an early appearance once spring has arrived on the calendar, if not in the weather. These whiter than white dangling flowers dot the landscape, carpeting meadows and the forest floor. They can also be found clinging to rock features surrounded by puffy yellow-green mosses.

White fawn lilies have brilliant pendant flowers hanging from long stalks

It turns out that Erythronium, a genus of 20 - 30 species of perennial plants with long bulbs and pendant flowers, are also edible. The bulb, or corm, can be cooked, or dried, and can be ground into flour (using a flower to make flour). The beautiful green leaves are mottled with brown and white, and can also be cooked and eaten.

The wide leaves of Fawn lilies emerge early from the carpet of brown detritus

Spring 2011 may be coming slowly to the coastal forest, but you can't tell from the Skunk cabbage and Fawn lilies. They are coming up full force, regardless of overcast, cool days. They seem to be saying, "It is spring - let's grow. Let's do this thing."

Right now is a good time for a walk in the woods. You will witness all of life waking up for another season. Treat yourself, and experience the magic of Spring in the coastal forest.

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