In early spring

ISLAND WILD: Colts prance along damp Island riverbanks

Every spring, Mother Earth hosts a race alongside melting rivers and streams

Every spring, Mother Earth hosts a race alongside melting rivers and streams.

Depending on one’s powers of observation, it’s the deftly-hidden sprint to become Campbell River’s first blooming wildflower.

Most folks who guess “Skunk Cabbage” will correctly identify one of the race’s front runners. Big and brash in golden hues, the strong-smelling plant (more appealingly called “Swamp Lantern”) is undeniably the largest and often the season’s first-noticed wildflower.

But look a bit closer, lower to the ground, in bogs, meadows, damp seepage areas and rich riparian soil, to find another contender. Posing pretty in Easter shades of ivory and mauve, coltsfoot (colt’s foot) is the more delicate of spring’s two front-runners, and one with a captivating genealogy.

The ample blooms provide some of the first springtime nectar for bees. The blossom resembles a heavy clustered flower-head, replaced in autumn by a flattened ‘dandelion’ puff. This native perennial is unique in that the flowers usually appear – and wither away – even before the leaves unfurl.

Long ago, First Nations people gathered fresh coltsfoot stalks as a spring vegetable. Steamed, with a pat of butter, salt and pepper, its smell and taste resemble celery or asparagus.

Various species of this circumboreal plant existed in ancient Europe, where it was called coughwort or butterbur. Imaginative early botanists thought coltsfoot leaves resembled horseshoes … thus the common name. So useful were the leaves, flowers and roots that French pharmacists painted ‘Pas d’âne’ blossoms on their signposts.

Scientific analysis confirms zinc, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and tannin (an antiseptic) in coltsfoot, and it’s a potent ingredient of some cough syrups and herbal teas.

Bees love it, butter improves it, our ancestors smoked it, and coughs may be cured with it, making coltsfoot an all-in-one wildflower, vegetable, medicine and tobacco!

Springtime fantasies of little colts prancing along a riverbank should be enough to coax anyone outside to look for these wildflower front-runners, but don’t delay, as they’ll soon disappear beneath their own canopy of dinner plate-size leaves.

Vancouver Island Backyard Bird poster now at Campbell River Museum and Coho Books. E-mail: wildernesswest@shaw.ca

Just Posted

VIDEO: Repaved stretch of Hwy. 19A dangerous, Campbell River cyclist says

Mayor says city could do better job at consulting with cyclists and other residents

Campbell River-area residents on the hook following fisheries violations

DFO announces convictions related to sea urchin, prawn fisheries

Campbell River arena first to switch to carbon dioxide from ammonia

Work to decommission refrigeration system at Strathcona Gardens now underway

Fraser Valley man dead after car hurtles from embankment west of Campbell River

Survivor of crash rushed to hospital by helicopter in serious condition

Sixteen registered for Indigenous kindergarten program in Campbell River

Program uses four seasons model and incorporates wildlife wisdom and cultural activities

600 new campsites coming to provincial parks and recreation sites across B.C.

Tourism Minister announced half of the new spots to 13 most popular provincial parks

B.C. man who fell off cliff returns there to rescue eagle from vulture attack

Nanaimo’s James Farkas, who broke his hip in a fall, saves eagle on same beach months later

Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 to move within 1 game of NBA Finals

Leonard scores 35 as Toronto takes 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee

B.C. Supreme Court dismisses review around ferry workers’ right to strike

B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union collective agreement expires November 2020

Municipalities protest after B.C. declares marijuana crops ‘farm use’

UBCM president seeks answers in letter to John Horgan government

CMHC defends mortgage stress test changes amid calls for loosening rules

Uninsured borrowers must now show they could service their mortgage if rates rose two per cent

B.C. woman left ‘black and blue’ after being pushed off 40-foot cliff at lake

West Shore RCMP looking for witnesses as investigation continues

Cystic Fibrosis Walk Sunday in Campbell River

Help make CF history, for Maysa’s sake

Thunderstorms to bring heavy rain, risk of flash floods in the southern Interior

Ten to 30 millimetres of rain to fall over the early weekend

Most Read