The Purpose of the Corkbulb
By Cantur Caelmoryn
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 into this idea of corkbulb being wood by the thought that Morrowind is a blasted wasteland, bereft of any kind of 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, for 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 then laughable!
The other problem with the idea of corkbulb-as-wood lies in the unusual composition of a corkbulb taproot, that makes it an unideal 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, and 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 hardy as green willow, but 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 Iwas not allowed to witness this sort of crafting firsthand. I was told I might become “too absorbed into the process", whatever that means.
The innermost layer, on the other hand, 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.
The 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.