Skunk cabbage provides a strong whiff of spring for bicyclists

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While the Foothills Trail in Pierce County has its daffodils, the Centennial Trail in Snohomish County could be known for its most predominant spring flower — the skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage

Skunk cabbage

On Saturday’s Opening Day for Trails, I joined a host of cyclists out for a sunny bike ride along the Centennial Trail. This wonderful rail-trail now rolls for 31 miles through Arlington to the Nakashima Barn trailhead up by the Skagit County line.

While I expected to smell the aroma of cherry blossoms or other flowering trees wafting through the spring air, what really struck my olfactory senses was the odor of skunk cabbage in blossom in the wetlands around Lake Cassidy between Lake Stevens and Arlington.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how skunk cabbage got its name. Late in the day, the air smelled like skunk road-kill baking in the sun.

Maybe I was dialed in to skunk cabbage after reading the blog post “Bicycle Botany: Skunk Cabbage” by Russell Rogers at his Flying Abalone blog. Russell transplanted from the Olympic Peninsula to the Philadelphia area recently and wrote about the eastern and western varieties of the plant as his blog.

Centennial Trail

Skunk cabbage alongside Centennial Trail

Although there are a few differences, such as the Latin names of each, he says that they both attract insects by emitting the odor of rotting meat. If the acres of skunk cabbage blooming in the wet soil along the Centennial Trail are any indication, that’s a successful strategy for propagation.

Don’t get me wrong. The odor of  skunk cabbage is no reason to avoid the Centennial Trail. In fact, it’s a good reason to go if you want to gain an appreciation about how some plants struggle to survive. They also add spots of color in the soggy brush before the trees and shrubs come out in leaf.

And it’s not just on the Centennial Trail. Skunk cabbage is blooming every where right now; I saw some in boggy areas along the mountain bike trails at St. Edwards State Park on Friday.

If you enjoy riding on rail-trails and you haven’t been to the Centennial Trail in Snohomish County in a few years, this would be a good time to check it out.

Although the roadside at Pine and Maple in Snohomish is still the best trailhead, the trail extends a couple of more miles south to the businesses on Second and First Streets.

To the north, the trail opened all the way to the Nakashima Barn near the Skagit County line in November.

All that remains is the “missing link” in the south end of Arlington, but that’s on the books for completion.

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1 comment

  1. Ha! Perhaps the title of my next blog post should be “Bicycle botany bug bites Biking Bis!” Skunk cabbage really is a nice looking plant that stinks to high heaven. That’s a great photo of the northwest version!

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