In the winter, when the ground is still cold and perhaps even covered with snow, the skunk cabbage emerges. While other plants and trees must wait for the warmer weather of spring, the skunk cabbage has the ability to bloom in a frozen world. How can this be?
Let’s find out some facts about skunk cabbage first.
- The Eastern Skunk Cabbage has the scientific name Symplocarpus foetidus. The first word, Symplocarpus, means “connected fruit” and the second word, foetidus, means “foul smelling”. If you’ve ever stepped on a skunk cabbage while walking, you know what that means. They smell like dung or rotting meat.
- Skunk cabbage belong to the same family of plants as some common houseplants-Caladium, Philodendron and Dieffenbachia, for example. This family of plants is the Arum family. They all give off a bad smelling odor.
- Skunk cabbage live in temperate climates. The other Arums live in tropical climates.
Okay, so what? How does this help us explain why skunk cabbage can bloom so early?
It turns out that when the Arum family of plants was evolving, they developed the ability to produce their own heat. This heat enabled the plants to vaporize, or evaporate, the awful smelling chemicals they produce in order to attract the insects they needed for pollination. If you were a fly, following the smell of a rotting dead animal, you would find yourself on a plant, instead.
Now, the skunk cabbage, which lives in colder, northern climates, uses this heat-producing ability to bloom before other flowering plants and get a jump on the season!
So, the next time you are on a hike in winter or early spring, look for the purple Eastern Skunk Cabbage. But hold your nose if you accidentally step on one! PHEW-EE!!
Have a great day!
Illustration original. Photographs courtesy of Pixabay