Tuesday, May 20, 2008

EW! Eastern Skunk Cabbages

Ummmm. What do I smell? Could it be this eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)? In the photo above, you can see the plant's shell-like spathe, mottled green and purple. Inside you can see the spadix on which there are flowers. Or not. OK, maybe the flowers are gone...or what passes for flowers with stamens and pistils
Here's a closer look. I think the plant has already been fertilized and this is what's left. I found the plants too late as they are one of the first plants to bloom in spring. I just recently noticed a colony growing in a roadside ditch. Tons of them!

I remember skunk cabbages from my childhood but haven’t seen any in years. So once I spotted these, I began looking for them in other places too...but with no luck. Why would I search for such a plant with a skunk-like odor? Ha! Would you believe nostalgia? How about curiosity?
Here are some leaves of a young plant that apparently didn't have flowers this year. Leaves emerge after the plants have flowered.

So why does the plant smell so bad? To attract flies, the insect thought to pollinate skunk cabbages. The plant also boasts another clever trick to attract flies: the flowers produce heat, perfect for tricking insects into visiting them during cold weather.

Skunk cabbage is said to be poisonous for humans to consume (and who'd want to anyway?), but it’s a source of food for squirrels and deer. And bears think skunk cabbage roots are a delicacy. Fortunately I didn't see any foraging bears the day I took these photos. ;-)


 gmirage said...

My first time to see it =D Thanks for the input on the usefulness of this strange plant.

Small City Scenes said...

That sure is different than the Yellow Skunk Cabbage (lysichiton americanum) that we both pictured earlier. Thanks for sharing this stinker. MB


Very interresting post about a plant we don't know in Europe.

dot said...

I don't think I've ever heard of this. It's really a strange looking plant.

Anonymous said...

This turned into one interesting post for me. I have not seen any skunk cabbage anywhere around here. I had not seen one for a long time in pictures until this morning and I saw your pictures. Nice narrative and the pictures are great too.

Thanks for the visit to my place and for the generous comments you left there.

Rose said...

I love the looks of this plant--I can't actually remember seeing it but wonder if I have just not noticed it before. Now I will be on the lookout for it.

Tom said...

Never heard much of these before.. but I can imagine the smell from the name..
Interest plant and one I will try to read up more on.

maryt/theteach said...

EG, thanks for the lesson on skunk cabbage - I'll keep my nose peeled for them. HA!

Shammickite said...

I haven't seen any of these, I'll have to look next time I'm out on a ramble.

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East Gwillimbury is a rural town less than an hour north of Toronto, Canada's largest city. My family calls me CameraGirl because I take my camera with me wherever I go.