Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Skunk Cabbage: A Year Later

Last year I found my first skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) during an adventure I documented here. It's definitely one of my favorite plants, and its smell is not to be missed. Plus, the fact that it's one of the first flowers to bloom as spring approaches makes it a welcome sight after the dreariness of winter.

After seeing it last year, I wondered when it would bloom again. This year's winter hasn't been as wonky as last year's was; we've had a few snowfalls and it has been colder, which is good. Of course, there are always some warm snaps, and two weeks ago one greeted us. I took advantage of it to see if the skunk cabbage was blooming yet, and it was definitely there.

Shy skunk cabbage

 My foray was on January 19, a little more than a month before last year's adventure. The skunk cabbage wasn't in full bloom as it was back then, but perhaps in another week or two it will be. You can see in the above picture that the spathe is just starting to emerge, but isn't exposing the spadix (the ball that contains the flowers) quite yet.


The red and yellow thing there is the spathe, which protects the spadix. It's a fleshy bract (modified leaf), and releases the skunk cabbage's pungent odor which damaged. All the spathes I saw are smaller than last year's, since it's earlier in the season.


The area was dotted with these gnome-like eruptions from the ground, and the dead leaves could not stop their growth. It's always a challenge to avoid stepping on the plants due to their sheer numbers, so I damaged a few of them, though not fatally.

There's still more than enough time in the season to find skunk cabbage, so if you're in the eastern US and have some free time in the coming weeks, go check out places near you that are damp throughout the year. Wetlands are great skunk cabbage habitat, so start there! Bring a portable thermometer with you in case you find them for a neat experiment. Skunk cabbage produces its own heat through cellular respiration, which melts nearby snow and allows it to bloom so early. Try putting the thermometer inside the spathe to see if it's warmer than the ambient temperature around you!


As a side note, all the pictures taken for this post are from my Droid X phone. Not as good as my regular camera, but they sure do get the point across!

1 comment:

  1. I heard reports it was up around the state, nice to know you found yours in action! I sometimes like my iPhones photos more than my dslr's as odd as it is to say. Phone technology today is awesome!

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