The American Skunk Cabbage: A "Curse" or plain stinking stupidity?
February 11, 2017
As you may have guessed, the American Skunk Cabbage kind of stinks. If you step on its spiky, yellow leaves you’ll be treated to a scent that’s been likened to rotting flesh. This odorous plant began turning up in the UK during the 20th Century, a long way from its North American home.
It was apparently brought over at the start of the 20th Century from the States to be used as an ornamental bog flower. Quite why anyone would want a flower that smells like a corpse is a valid question, which unfortunately I cannot answer.
The American Skunk Cabbage, skunking its way across the UK since the mid-20th Century.
But that aside, the somewhat inevitable happened and the Skunk Cabbage escaped its garden confines to take root in wetlands around the UK. Whether it was released upon the noses of innocent nature lovers and ramblers by mistake, mischief or malice is a mystery unto itself.
The first record of it in the wild was in 1947 near Haslemere in Surrey. In 2012, RSPB Scotland released a statement warning that this stinking plant was turning up in the Insh Marshes nature reserve, describing it as a "curse" on the land. They feared that the stinking menace would outcompete local flora and duly mobilised volunteers to rip it out, hopefully with the appropriate nose gear.
“I would ask any gardeners who have this plant to keep an eye on it and not to let it get into any nearby watercourses,” Karen Sutcliffe, RSPB's Ince Marshes site manager, says in the statement -- without any judgement on their choice of garden plant, you may note.
This isn’t the worst example of an invasive species, it's not on the same level as Europe's killer algae or the Cane Toad (coming up next) for instance, but it is enough of a pest for local councils to have a shoot-to-kill policy out on it -- or at least the plant equivalent.
In fact, there seem to be few devastating ecological impacts, other than the Skunk Cabbage crowding out native species due to their tendency to grow in dense groups and steal smaller plants light. Oh, and don't forget the smell.
I chose to bring attention to this example primarily because of the insanity of it. Why did someone import it in the first place? It’s a plant that smells of frickin’ death after all. So if you happen to have one in your garden, and I am only slightly sorry for this, I hate you.