Thursday, June 4, 2009

Skunk Cabbage ... or not?

When I looked at the place that is now my home with the real estate agent last fall, one of the (many) things she pointed out to me was a patch of skunk cabbage where the old barn used to be. Later, after I moved into the house, I did some research into skunk cabbage.

I learned that it makes its own heat and tends to melt snow in the early spring. I learned that when it's leaves are broken, it smells - hence the name. When it came up in early spring, I looked for the snowmelt - none. I smelled broken leaves - no smell.

So I figured out that it's not skunk cabbage, but what is it? Many of the plant books are keyed to flower colors, and since this hadn't flowered, I was at a loss to identify the mystery plant. You also generally have to have a guess at something and then look up to confirm or deny. I had no guesses, so waited ... and waited.

Then last week someone else wrote in their blog about planting comfrey. Comfrey? I looked it up and it seemed possible. Then this week the mystery plant started to bloom. It's definitely comfrey!
Comfrey is interesting - in olden days is was known as bone-knit, used in poultices and teas. It's been researched as browse for ruminants (like goats), and is good, but not as good as other browses. Recent research indicates that ingesting large amounts could be harmful. It is nitrogen-fixing and can be used as mulch, but it propagates through roots. So if any root pieces end up in the mulch, you'll get a new plant.
So nice to be able to identify this new plant!

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