Friday, February 15, 2013

The Eastern Skunk Cabbage is Blooming

Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarus foetidus)

On Wednesday afternoon, I took a quick hike down to the swamp at Brukner Nature Center because Deb Oexmann, Executive Director, sent us an email a few days earlier telling us this plant was poking up through the ground.  This is a different plant from the American Skunk-cabbage, (Lysichitomn americanus), which is sometimes grown in Europe.

The Eastern Skunk Cabbage is the first wildflower to bloom in this part of Ohio.  Early in the spring its leaves are furled but in the summer the Brukner swamp will be carpeted with its huge open  leaves which remind people of the garden variety of cabbage leaves.  Skunk is part of the name because of the way the leaves smell when they are broken.  I think the smell  is very like that of our native Skunk (Mephitis mephitis), a member of the weasel family.  However, the patch of skunk cabbage in the swamp smells lovely and springlike because the leaves are not broken.

The Eastern Skunk Cabbage has interesting adaptations.  It creates heat within the spathe, the cuplike growth that surrounds the spadix on which the tiny yellow flowers grow.  Scientists theorize that the insects which pollinate the plant are attracted to the warmth within the shelter of the spathe.  The plants create enough heat to melt the snow above them so they can emerge.

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