Something Smells at Elk Falls

There is a distinctive aroma in the air at this time of year, especially in the wet and soggy places on Vancouver Island. I took the kids out to Elk Falls Provincial Park near Campbell River this week and did the loop trail to the falls viewpoint and then followed the river up to the second parking area near the base of the John Hart hydro dam.

Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanum)
The distinctive yellow spathe of Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanum) resembles a lantern in the darkness of the forest.

There are a number of very wet seepage areas on either side of the trail and Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanum) was common. As you can imagine, the source of the distinctive smell was these beautiful plants which are also known by their other common name, Swamp Lantern.

The bright yellow spathe (hooded bract) of the plant does look something like a lantern in the dark wet forest and is often visible before the broad basal leaves appear. The “lantern” surrounds a spadix or spike of small greenish yellow flowers and is a striking visual attractant for pollinators. The musky smell of the plant also serves to attract midges, gnats and flies and other insects. The spadix is actually able to raise its temperature and in the shelter of the spathe creates a slightly warmer micro climate. This enhances the smell of the plant and enables insects to be more active, and thus, better pollinators.

Knowing a little more about this fascinating plant makes enduring the smell all the more easier. While the odour is somewhat skunk-like it is not entirely unpleasant. The aroma definitely makes finding this beautiful plant a simple task.

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