On Friday, April 12th, a storm moved through, bringing rain and freezing rain and sleet and snow, an altogether miserable day. Just a few days later, on the 15th, we enjoyed a truly beautiful spring day. The sun shone and the temperature rose into the 70s F. Fickle April! Seabrooke and I decided it was a perfect day to hunt for the first flowers of spring: skunk cabbage (symplocarpus foetidus).
We headed out to a moist woodland near here, and sure enough, there they were! Skunk cabbage flowers early in the spring, often while there is still snow on the ground, and the flowers appear before the leaves. Once the big green mounds of leaves appear, skunk cabbage is quite conspicuous. But the flowers are not as easy to spot from the roadside. Can you see them on the forest floor, above?
Indeed, you might not even recognize these as flowers. The reddish-purple spathes have a sculptural appearance. The hoodlike spathe wraps around the flower-bearing spadix. The spadix is covered with 50 to 100 tiny flowers that form a spiral pattern over the spadix.
If you carefully sniff skunk cabbage, you might wonder what the source of its name might be because there is little scent. It is only when the plant is bruised or damaged that the odor for which it is named is released.
Because they flower so early in the spring, there aren’t usually a lot of pollinators around. Amazingly, the spadix is capable of producing heat through a method of respiration, and the temperature inside the spathe can be warm enough for early-season pollinators to take refuge and warm themselves before continuing on to another plant.
While we admired the skunk cabbage, we were serenaded by a Western Chorus frog (Psuedacris triseriata). We also heard Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs. You can listen to the chorus frog as Seabrooke walks through the skunk cabbage woods via this Youtube link: