One of the earliest among the wild flowers hereabouts in the spring is the skunk cabbage, so-called because of its faint skunk-like scent, and also because of its appearance later in the year. The colors of the emerging skunk cabbage leaves are a spectacular combination of green, maroon, and yellow, streaked and striated on some, solid on others.
They push up from the ground in swampy areas. These are along the walk in the woods behind the house, down the road nearly to my neighbors, in a low area where a seasonal stream runs. The skunk cabbages also line some of the drainage ditches beside the road. At this time of the year they are one of the few new flowering plants that can be seen. Along with the plentiful green mosses, the emerging skunk cabbages mark the greening of the year, well before the grass rises green from its winter brown.
According to the 19th-century botanical books that I consult, the skunk cabbage is of the Arum family, the Aracae order, and the Symplocarpus genus. Symplocarpus is Greek for “fruit grown together.”
Gray’s Field, Forest and Garden Botany (1877) describes the only American species as Symplocarpus foetidus, “sending up, in earliest spring, its purple tinged or striped spaethe enclosing the head of flowers…..” This head of flowers, or spadix, is undeveloped at this time of year, but it can be seen “hiding” inside the spaethe.
In its construction the skunk-cabbage is like the jack-in-the-pulpit [see this blog's entry for Dec 5, 2010] in that it has a spadix inside a spaethe, and over the year the flowers develop into a fruit or berry. The skunk cabbage differs from the jack-in-the-pulpit in that the flowers of the latter are formed without a perianth or calyx, on a more or less spoon-like spadix; whereas the skunk cabbage flowers have a 4-leaved perianth on a globular spadix. Later in the year the large, ovate, heart-shaped, veiny cabbage-type leaves will appear, and I will try to monitor them in photos as the year itself unfolds on the island.
|Photos of skunk cabbages © 2011 by Jeff Todd Titon|
Under Creative Commons license
Personal use is ok;
Commercial use is prohibited without further permission.
Skunk Cabbage by Jeff Todd Titon is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.