It’s officially spring and soon we’ll all be inundated with wildflowers. Happily we have an expert on hand to provide tips and information–Carol Gracie, author of Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast.
Skunk Cabbage – Our earliest-blooming spring wildflower doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
Although it may not conform to our stereotypical image of a delicate, pastel-colored spring wildflower, skunk cabbage is a true native wildflower that should be appreciated for brightening our swamps in early spring with both its color and sensuous form, as well as admired for its hardiness. Skunk cabbage not only grows in a difficult habitat—dark, cold swamps—but flowers at a time of year when other plants have not dared to show even the tips of their leaves. In fact, skunk cabbage often begins flowering in mid-February, over a month before the official spring equinox.
The adaptations that skunk cabbage has evolved to survive in these harsh conditions are quite remarkable. Skunk cabbage plants are anchored in the wet, spongy soil by masses of long, tenacious roots that actually expand and contract to hold the plant more securely in the ground, and the flowering structure (the spadix) is actually capable of generating its own heat through the process of respiration. It can maintain a temperature of 68 degrees F even when the ambient temperature is below freezing. The heat is conserved by the thick insulation of the enclosing hood (the spathe) thus hastening the melting of snow surrounding the plant.