By Linda Cooley
Coastal Legend holds that the singing of the Pacific Chorus frog (tree frog) is the frogs calling the sleeping plants to wake up. On the Kitsap Peninsula, the tiny frogs began singing voraciously each evening about three weeks ago. Several of our finest and showiest indigenous plants also awoke with show-stopping blooms and light fragrance. Spotted blooming around the Sound in lowland forests this month are skunk cabbage (Lysichitum americanum) and red flowering current (Ribes sanguineum).
Neither a cabbage, nor strongly-foul odored, the strikingly beautiful herb with soft yellow blooms is a representative of a predominantly tropical family, aroid (Araceae). Its enormous 2-3’ long leaves and 1’ long flower would appear more at home in a tropical rainforest than in the Pacific Northwest. However, this beauty so brightens coastal-forested wetlands that some botanists recommend changing its common name to swamp lantern.
Photo by B. McVety
Also blooming this month is the red flowering current (Ribes sanguineum). This woody shrub is so attractive to humming birds that they gauge their seasonal migration on the flowering times of the shrub. Butterflies also use the early spring nectar. Leaves provide forage for the larvae of moths and butterflies, and occasional browse for deer and elk. Branches provide nesting habitat for songbirds and cover for small mammals. Birds and small mammals also consume the summer berries.
Near saltwater, Ribes tolerate the tough conditions within the salt spray zone. Paddling around Marrowstone Island this month I observed some nice specimens just above the salt water at the edge of a Madrona forest.
Photos courtesy of Washington Native Plant Society files