Tag Archives: early spring blooms

Swamp Lantern, Lysichiton americanus

The first glimpse was a flash of yellow along the trail’s edge. Mid-March can be so grey — but this was bright & happy. 🙂

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Anything blooming at this time of year makes me smile. Western Skunk Cabbage is no exception. With a name like that, perhaps you’ll think yourself fortunate to see it in a photo rather than in person… but I’ve never noticed a foul odour around this plant. Some say the smell comes when leaves are bruised. Others contend it’s the flowers trying to attract pollinating flies & beetles.

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Lysichiton americanus is also called the Swamp Lantern. To my mind, this name is more suited. The flower spike is like the candle flame & it’s cupped by a protective spathe that glows & reflects the light– just like a lantern.
A more fitting name, right?
Even still, I often revert to the first name I learned & struggle to remember this one. Perhaps I just need to concentrate more.

In early spring, the flowers emerge in wet areas all along the Pacific Northwest. This spring is no exception. The low laying wetlands bordering Esquimalt Lagoon are prime habitat for this west coast native.

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

I’ve seen lots of Swamp Lantern before, but just around the corner the patch swells into the largest. The southern trails at Royal Roads University are a prime pick-me up for my March blues.

The leaves follow the bloom, unfurling in a rosette around the flower. At first they’re small, but they grow quickly in the rich, moist soil.

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

By May, the plants are large & lush. Here’s a patch just off McKenzie Beach near Tofino.

Through the summer they grow even bigger. At peak, a single leaf can be 2 feet wide & twice as long!
Dramatic, eh?

It’s no wonder folks in the UK were impressed when it was introduced as an ornamental in the early 1900’s. It became very popular. It received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

The conditions in England are so similar to Vancouver Island it thrived. Within 50 years Lysichiton americanus escaped the British garden & was gradually naturalizing along streams & wetlands.
That’s a little too much drama.
Now, the RHS advises against its cultivation.

I’m glad to see Swamp Lantern here, where it grows naturally. It warms my heart. I’m relieved it hasn’t been threatened by more competitive introduced species like many of our wildflowers have been. Its a reminder of how delicate an ecosystem can be.


Lorraine says:
Hi SV,
I hope you are well and still landscaping.
I remember one of the naturalist talking about bears eating them. So had to look it up.
Stay safe,

March Garden Activities

camellia, march, near the YM-YWCA, , ws
photo by SVSeekins

Birds are more plentiful this month. They’re singing, mating & nest-building. I like to clean & refill birdbaths for them. It’s also nice to provide some nesting materials seeing as how I’ve already composted much of the natural material over winter.

cherry blooms in Beacon Hill Park
photo by SVSeekins


  • Sharpen pruners, shears and hedge clippers and make sure they’re free from rust.
  • It’s best to clean pruners between each shrub. Spray with a solution of 10% bleach & water. This helps to prevent the spread of diseases through the garden.

Cyclamen coum
photo by SVSeekins


  • Fruit Trees – before the blooms open, apply dormant oil to control pests (unless it was done in February)


  • mahonia bloom
    photo by SVSeekins

    Hydrangea should be pruned after the middle of March to avoid die back from freezing winds.

  • The common butterfly bush blooms only on new growth, so now’s a good time to prune it to the shape that suits
  • Roses can be pruned when the forsythia is in bloom.
  • Forsythia & other flowering shrubs can be pruned right after flowering.

photo by SVSeekins
bergenia – elephant ears


  • Add compost or Sea Soil to areas of heavy feeding, like rhubarb, asparagus patch & veggie bed


  • Chionodoxa - Glory of Snow in rock crevice
    photo by SVSeekins

    Plant summer flowering bulbs (gladioli & lilies) towards the end of the month, depending on the soil conditions. They don’t like sitting in waterlogged soils.

  • Sow sweet peas and hardy annuals such as alyssum, & calendula.

early daffodils
photo by SVSeekins


  • As the temperature increases so will growth. This is when that January mulching really starts to pay off.   Wander through the beds digging out the occasional perennial weeds (dandelions…)  If the mulching didn’t happen, keep a check on the carpet of young weeds & remove them before they take hold… Pop Weed goes to seed quickly, so get rid of it fast!

photo by SVSeekins
Donkey Tail Spurge


  • The worst of the cold is past now & the birds have more choices for food. Now’s the time to cut back the perennials left standing for the birdseed… Tall sedums blooms are a good example.  Isn’t it nice to see the new growth at the base is already showing?
  • Divide Snowdrops & Winter Aconite (Eranthis) while ‘in the green’.
  • Pot up the Tuberous Begonias, Dahlias & Cannas that have wintered in their bare root storage… keeping them inside gives them a head start before moving them outside in May.

photo by SVSeekins
hellebore and; crocus

Now’s also the time to finish up dividing those overgrown hardy perennials:

  • Cut the tops back to a couple of inches.
  • Lift the whole plant out with a fork.
  • Look for a natural line across the plant and cut it right through with a sharp knife.
  • Continue this until you’ve divided the plant up to suit your needs.
  • Replant the pieces in groups of 3-5 to make an impact in ornamental borders from repeating colour schemes.
  • Pot up spares immediately.  (The garden club welcomes donations!)
  • Water well.

English Daisy meadow WSO
photo by SVSeekins


  • Edge the beds & lawns now, slicing the grass runners that are invading the beds.

The grass is growing steadily now,
Make sure the mower is serviced and ready for the season.

aubrecia & candy tuft dangling over a short wall
photo by SVSeekins

  • Before mowing, remove thatch and moss by scarifying with a lawn rake.
  • Set the blades to a higher setting (3cm) for the first few cuts.
  • Stay off or try to minimise activity on the lawn if it’s wet. It will turn to mud very quickly in the wet.
  • Re-seed any bare areas: scratch the surface with a lawn rake and sow.

Veg & Berry Patch

red flowering currant ms
photo by SVSeekins

  • Get into the raspberry patch & take out the spent & spindly stems. Tidy up the bed & tie this year’s producers to the trellis.
  • Starts – Direct seed arugula, broad beans, corn salad, kale, chard, spinach, oriental greens, and peas outdoors.

early rhododendron
photo by SVSeekins

Greenhouse & Cold Frames

  • Buy seed potatoes now and store the tubers in a light, cool (10°C), frost-free spot and leave them to sprout. (This is called chitting.) Egg cartons make good chitting trays. Make sure to put the tubers with the ‘eye’ end (where the sprouts will grow from) upwards.
  • Starts – asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, peppers, eggplants…  start tomatoes later in the month

species tulip
photo by SVSeekins

Watch for ‘damping off’ disease in seedlings in the greenhouse or indoors. This fungus causes the stems to collapse and the seedlings to fall over.

  • Avoid over-crowding seeds & sprouts. It’s better to have a tray of fewer, healthier plants than to lose many to this disease
  • Water often, but sparingly
  • Ensure that seedlings get enough light to prevent them from becoming ‘leggy’.
  • Turn seed trays daily to ensure even growth.

grape hyacinth
photo by SVSeekins

Remove fallen leaves and other decaying plant debris from ponds. Frogs and other aquatic life will be emerging from winter hibernation so a good tidy up now prevents stagnation & algae build-up.

basket of gold, aurinia
photo by SVSeekins

Seasonal Color
trees: flowering plum… early cherries…
shrubs: forsythia… red flowering currant… silk tassel bush… camelliaviburnum spring dawnmahoniaheathers… Pieris (lily of the valley shrub)… sarcococca… heavenly bamboo… early rhodos… cotoneaster…
perennials: aubretia… basket of gold (Aurinia)… candy tuft… bergeniahellebore… primula… winter jasmine… donkey tail spurge (euphorbia)… vinca (periwinkle)…
ferns: licorice
bulbs: crocus… winter aconite (Eranthis)… Cyclamen coum… early daffodils… early species tulips… hyacinth… Chionodoxa (glory of snow)…

primula wanda
photo by SVSeekins

Planning & Events

  • The Victoria Orchid Club hosts its spring show (usually the first weekend in March)
  • Garden shops are opening up for the season, so it’s fun to cruise them for ideas, but most of their early starts aren’t ready to go out into the garden yet, so control yourself (unless you’re up for nursing those babies inside for another month or two).

© SVSeekins, 2014