Skunk cabbage heats up to herald spring
It's a hot topic as it melts through to spring
Crocuses? Yes, we welcome them and love watching the bees doing
the same happy dance in the pollen that we're doing as we
rediscover the garden.
It's wonderful just to think that many early flowers, including
crocuses, pasqueflowers, magnolias and a lot of tiny alpines,
create a warm space within their petals through tricks of cup shape
and reflectivity, or actual thermogenesis. (We like to call it
heavy breathing, since the process involves rapid cell
respiration.) Perhaps the bees really are reveling.
Yet when we think of spring's glorious return, it's skunk
cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) that comes first to our
minds. It emerges even before warmth returns, creating heat by
rapidly metabolizing starches and releasing oxygen. Put your finger
into the red-brown peaked cap and touch the club-like, sheltered
flower -- it's giving off more heat than a canary or gerbil, enough
to literally melt its way through the ice of a woodsy wetland to
offer its hooded, petalless flower to the insects during late
More gardeners with wet wooded areas should grow this plant. Its
big leaves are beautiful. As for the smell its name implies, you'll
probably notice it only when digging or dividing it.
Think we're goofy over a humble plant? We're just beginners
compared to some!