Skunk Cabbage – 6/24/10

Observer: Paul Lauenstein

Observation Date: 6/24/10

Observation Time: 3:40 p.m.

Observation Location: Beaver Brook near tennis courts

Common Name: Skunk cabbage

Scientific Name: Symplocarpus foetidus

Comments: Tearing a leaf produces a pungent but not harmful odor, the source of the plant’s common name; it is also foul smelling when it blooms. The plant is not poisonous to the touch. The foul odor attracts pollinators, such as scavenging flies, stoneflies, and bees. The odor in the leaves may also serve to discourage large animals from disturbing or damaging this plant which grows in soft wetland soils.

Eastern skunk cabbage is notable for its ability to generate temperatures of up to 15–35 °C (27–63 °F) above air temperature by cyanide resistant cellular respiration in order to melt its way through frozen ground, placing it among a small group of thermogenic plants. Even though it flowers while there is still snow and ice on the ground, it is successfully pollinated by early insects that also emerge at this time. Carrion-feeding insects that are attracted by the scent may be doubly encouraged to enter the spathe because it is warmer than the surrounding air, fueling pollination.

Eastern skunk cabbage has contractile roots which contract after growing into the earth. This pulls the stem of the plant deeper into the mud, so that the plant in effect grows downward, not upward. Each year, the plant grows deeper into the earth, so that older plants are practically impossible to dig up. They reproduce by hard, pea-sized seeds which fall in the mud and are carried away by animals or by floods.

More Information: Wikipedia

Skunk Cabbage