*A magnificent plant called yellow lantern is flowering along the west coast. It’s a vibrant vernal beauty.
These western inhabitants thrive in rich mucky, wet swamps near red alders, Sitka spruce, western redcedars and grand firs.
Yellow lantern is a member of the arum family. It has large upright green leaves with a bright green, erect column, about nine inches high, surrounded by a gorgeous sunshine-yellow sheath.
Some flowers in the plant kingdom are remarkably fragrant. Others are fetid. What’s so important about how a flower smells? Scent determines which insects pollinate it. Sweet smelling flowers attract bees, hoverflies, wasps, hornets, moths, bats and butterflies. Foul smelling flowers, on the other hand, mimic carrion, which entice pollinators such as flies and some beetles.
Yellow lantern is sometimes called skunk cabbage because its flowers release sulfur-containing chemicals called thiols that vaguely resemble the odor of a skunk.
The yellow lantern’s principal pollinators are the rove beetles. These voracious pollinators gorge on plentiful floral pollen. Some pollen grains escape consumption by clinging onto the exterior of the beetles, and when the roves brush against a new flower, they inadvertently act as cross-pollinators.
After feasting and before leaving these well endowed flowers, some roves indulge in mating.
Yellow lantern roots provide important spring sustenance for ravenous black and grizzly bears newly emerged from months of winter hibernation.
The west coast Indigenous peoples eat steamed parts of yellow lantern, but only sparingly. These conspicuous maritimers contain calcium oxalate, which has sharp crystals that cause irritation along with burning sensations. Yellow lantern leaves are used as a ‘wax paper’ for lining berry baskets and steaming pits.
The sight of this dazzling yellow lantern-like plant makes it official: spring has sprung from Alaska to California. Happy Dance!
Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster, distinguished conservation biologist and author.