This is a sister post to “The Origin of the Ash Yam” and written by the same in-world character, Cantur Caelmoryn, who may yet find his way into other texts of mine in the future. The inspiration for this post is a pet peeve of mine on the level of the Alot. Yes, even handcanon can be subjected to pet peeves. Corkbulbs are not for eating, darn it!Author’s Note
Never is it that I have come across so many confused translations than when studying the herb Lignus Radis, otherwise known as Corkbulb in Dunmeris. Even the term “corkbulb” would have one thinking it is what it sounds like: a root made of a cork-like substance, that could assumably be used in place of wood. Alas, it is not quite so, and the uses of this fine root in Morrowind are often mistaken by horticultural novices.
Many scholars are led to this idea of corkbulb being wood by the thought that Morrowind is a blasted wasteland, bereft of any kind of proper tree, and leaving the Dunmer in a quandary when trying to find useful substances to make their housing and daily living implements from. This is, of course, false, for the marshy areas bordering Black Marsh in the South and the Bitter Coast in Vvardenfell, as well as the wooded areas of the Indoril and Redoran heartlands, are quite plentiful in trees.
Knowing this, one might instead infer that the corkbulb was cultivated for usage in drier climates like that of the Vvardenfell Grazelands or the Deshaan Salt Flats, but this, too, simply wouldn’t be true. The corkbulb plant is most commonly found in mediterranean climates such as the Ascadian Isles and the Sundered Scar, and all of these are within a horse and cart’s distance (or as they say in Morrowind, a packguar’s distance) from a wooded area. To think that corkbulb, in its awkward rounded form, is somehow more prevalent in usage than these timberlands is hence laughable!
The other issue with the idea of corkbulb-as-wood lies in the unusual composition of a corkbulb taproot, which makes it an inferior substance to be used in carpentry. Though the taproots grow large enough for a Altmer to crouch inside a hollowed-out bulb, only the innermost and outermost layers of the root are useful in any kind of crafting.
The outer layer of a corkbulb bulb is stiff and fibrous, like reeds or hickory bark. It is a common Dunmeri practice to strip and soak this layer in salt-water, until the strips take up a consistency flexible enough to be woven into baskets or mats. When left to dry (and I’m told this can take several months in the wetter climates) the corkbulb strips turn as hardy as green willow, though not nearly as flexible. Some craftsman will also use this as the base for sculpting when creating bonemold armor, but I was unable to confirm this, as I was not allowed to witness this sort of crafting firsthand. I was told I might become “too absorbed into the process”, whatever that means.
On the other hand, the innermost layer, when carved out from the pulpy and uttery useless fiber that surrounds it, is about the size of a cyprus knee, but as hard as oak. It is very useful for carving into pegs and small bowls or vases, but I am told it has an unnerving habit of sprouting shoots for a new corkbulb plant if left out too long in the sun. Larger corkbulb cores can be stripped down into pieces suitable for arrows, but among the Ashlanders, chitin from shalk shells is a more popular substance for this purpose instead.
However, the ingenuity of the Dunmer surrounding this peculiar root does not stop there. The corkbulb bulb is indeed a taproot, with many finer roots and tendrils branching off of it into the surrounding soil, helping to soak up nutrients and more firmly anchor the bulbous bulb into the ground. These smaller roots are much softer and more flavorful, and used in a variety of teas and dishes, much as we would use carrots or sassafrass. These roots serve an important physiological purpose as well, for without these, the giant bulbs would simply come loose from the soil and roll away–a disaster I had the peculiar pleasure of witnessing, when a bonemold artisan being chased by his erstwhile corkbulb had to jump into a mud-bottomed ditch to escape being crushed.
Together I hope these observations will aid the endeavours of future horticulturalists, botanists, and amateur botanical enthusiasts in the use and classification of this most particular and wonderful of tubers: the corkbulb.