Signs of the Seasons… Skunk Cabbage
Here in the middle of February, whether it be a warm winter day or snow on the ground, the Skunk Cabbage is emerging as one of our first signs of Spring.
Skunk Cabbage is an interesting plant in that it can generate heat and maintain temperatures that are as much as 86 degrees higher than surrounding air temperatures. When the ground is covered in snow, the plant uses cellular respiration to melt it and thereby emerge.
To see the flower of the skunk cabbage, you need to peer inside the emerging vegetation. Inside, you’ll see the stubby pinkish ball covered in little yellow flowers, all warm and ready for stoneflies, bees and other flies to come by and pollinate it.
The stink of the plant discourages animals, like deer from eating it. Here’s another fun fact from Wikipedia:
Eastern Skunk Cabbage has contractile roots which contract after growing into the earth. This pulls the stem of the plant deeper into the mud, so that the plant in effect grows downward, not upward. Each year, the plant grows deeper into the earth, so that older plants are practically impossible to dig up. They reproduce by hard, pea-sized seeds which fall in the mud and are carried away by animals or by floods.
Skunk cabbage is a wetland plant. When you find it, also look for signs of frogs and salamanders that may use the wet habitat for early spring breeding.