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Skunk Cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus

Posted on Apr 7, 2015

Although snow cover has been increasingly thinning over the past few weeks, this skunk cabbage plant (Symplocarpus foetidus) wasn’t about to wait any longer for the snow to thaw completely on its own. Similar to a bird or mammal, skunk cabbage is able to thermoregulate its internal temperatures regardless of the outside temperatures. Simply put, skunk cabbage is able to keep itself warm and keep from freezing under the snow. Some studies have shown that skunk cabbage can heat itself up to nearly 70°F, even when ambient temperatures are in the single digits! Due to this ability to heat up, skunk cabbage can melt the snow and ice above it during the early spring months, enabling it to bloom well before any other plants. As the plant matures, its maroon and green hood or spathe, opens up to reveal a fleshy spadix, covered in numerous pedal-less flowers packed with pollen. Pollinators such as flies and carrion beetles will enter the spathe to collect pollen from the spadix and pollinate the flower. While this flower doesn’t look like one you’d want to pick and put in your home for display, it creates an important microhabitat, and microclimate for that matter, for a number of species within wet places. As spring progresses, be on the lookout for more of these interesting plants and others that will soon be blooming as well!

Skunk Cabbage

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician