Saturday, February 23, 2008

Symplocarpus foetidus, a.k.a. Sunk Cabbage

Skunk cabbage

The marshy portion of our yard is so filled with skunk cabbage that I can’t walk across it without accidentally crushing their overwintering sprouts! Which makes me feel terrible because these are slow-growing and long-lived plants, and I’m not sure that they can recover from having their primed growing-point crushed.

Skunk cabbage grows only in sopping-wet soil, and each Spring they put out copious quantities of wide green leaves, which rot away abruptly in the heat of the Summer. But it’s their blossoms that are the most interesting. They sprout up alongside the plant’s sprout in the late winter and actually melt their way through the ice. That’s right: they give off heat. This is to attract the very first insects of the season.

This photo shows a skunk cabbage sprout, on the right, looking a little bent, perhaps, from being stepped on. (Sorry little plant!) On the left is the flower. Maybe later this month I’ll get a photo of one of these popping up through the snow, but right now the snow is too deep except for where there is flowing water.

These lovely plants have a terribly undeserved name. They don't stink!

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