Fellow social media addicts may have seen me tweet/Instagram recently about the impressive stands of Lysichiton americanus – or American Skunk Cabbage – at Winterbourne House in Birmingham. Here are some pics, taken hastily in a guided tour and a rainstorm. I think you’ll agree that it looks wonderful, even (especially) under leaden skies.
Winterbourne House has some wet woodland, which is a rare habitat in the UK, and this one is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. So the Lysichiton must be competing with native plants very effectively. It has, I am told, taken 60 years to spread this much but even so, I wonder what the plan is for future years?
In America, I read that the roots are eaten by bears as a post-hibernation laxative. I can see a few pros and cons with that as a form of control in a garden setting. Winterbourne has a terrible problem with badgers digging up their lawns – I wonder if they could train their badgers to eat Lysichiton roots?
It may spread relatively slowly, but once it is there it is a pig to dig out – and chemical control would cause horrendous collateral damage in delicate wetland habitats. The seeds can float downriver and establish colonies in wild and inaccessible places. My American friends tell me that once you have it it is here to stay.
It isn’t therefore unreasonable that this plant has ended up on the EU list of Invasive Alien Species (I don’t know where to start with the ironies of that phrase having currency in Brexit Britain). From this month we may no longer plant it and gardens which do have it must take reasonable steps to stop it from spreading outside their boundaries.
It is a plant to be admired from afar, given its whiffy common name, needing plenty of space as well as wet ground, so I’ve never grown Lysichiton americanus at home (my garden provides the opposite of its needs) or professionally. I’ve seen it in plenty of other gardens and always loved its crisp yellow spathes, each with a naughty green spadix; it stands out against the fresh greens of spring, reflected in cool water, then provides big, lush leaves. Here it is at Hidcote Manor Gardens, at Abbotswood, and at the Savill Gardens:
We can’t go rushing out to buy the plants any more and will have to be content with admiring it within established gardens, it’s a small price to pay if we are serious about trying to protect our own wetland habitats. Besides, I don’t want bears or skunks in my garden.
Are we still allowed to plant its Asian brother, Lysichiton camtschatcensis? Also rather lovely…