Friday Flora – Lysichiton americanus

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.

Lysichiton americanus, spectacular at Winterbourne House

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:

Lysichiton americanus and white Fritillaria meleagris at the Savill Gardens

At the Savill Gardens with Caltha palustris (kingcups)

Beside the stream at Abbotswood (on the left), again with Caltha palustris

Lysichiton americanus in the stream garden at Hidcote Manor 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…

Lysichiton camtschatcensis at the Savill Gardens

 

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Friday Flora – Lysichiton americanus

    • Hi Brian, I don’t think anyone is proposing that we ban all non-natives, but this plant does escape via waterways, can overwhelm a delicate ecosystem and is really hard to remove, so I think it’s right that we should try to stop it spreading more. It would be very sad if we stopped having access to plants from other countries altogether!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s