Sunday, March 13, 2011

Skunk Cabbage: An Early Spring Wildflower

In the last week or two, I have started noticing skunk cabbage in swampy wooded areas. Skunk cabbage is one of the earliest native plants to flower in the spring. The flower is inside the green and purple sheath. Shortly after the flower appears, the green leaves begin to spread.

Skunk cabbages get their name from giving off a rotten smell. The smell is strong enough that it is recorded in the Latin of the scientific name (Symplocarpus foetidus) as well as the English name. A strong odor is produced whenever a leaf is torn, which may discourage herbivores from eating the leaves. The rotten smell may also attract some pollinators such as flies and bees.