Over a month ago, in the lush valley by our vegetable garden, skunk cabbage, or swamp lantern, (Lysichiton americanum) sprouts began pushing their way through the boggy, sandy, soils they so love. For me, this perennial plant is a harbinger of spring. As it’s giant, sun-bright yellow hood opens, a large spike is revealed covered with small greenish-yellow flowers. But, it is the distinct early spring scent, a sweet-fowlness on the breath of the mid-March wind, that switches on my heightened awareness that spring is here. After I smell its putrid essense, my eyes are opened to see all the swelling buds, the tiniest flowers on the evergreen hucklberry, and even track the hummingbirds zooming in to steel away the last of the anemone seed-duff for their nests.
Long ago, I read something that Dr. Nancy J. Turner wrote about the First People’s usinging skunk cabbage leaves as “Indian wax paper”, to line berry baskets, and for general uses in food drying and for steaming foods. Somewhere I read about the leaves being used to make balls for young people to play with. I’ve done this, by harvesting one leaf from several plants as they were beginning to die back in mid June. First I shrank the leaves part-way, by drying them. Then I wrapped them tightly to form the ball and used iris cordage wrapped around it to hold the ball together.