Skunk Cabbage is one of the first flowers that signal that Spring is finally here. Whether you live in Montana or Maryland, you can find this ancient plant along streams and in marshy areas. Most folks do not know what they are looking at when they see the emergence of this odd, 7 million year old plant.
In order to emerge early in cold conditions, this plant creates its own heat. This process is called “Thermogenesis” and can generate heat around itself up to 70 degrees! It is not uncommon to see this odd plant growing out of ground covered in snow.
The Warm Blooded Skunk Cabbage is not a true cabbage and looks like something from a Sci-Fi movie. The first thing to emerge is a hood like brown and purple spotted shell like pod. This “Spathe” contains a flower called a “Spadix”. Eventually this knob will become covered in small yellow flowers. This must be the plant that gave the “Alien” movies their ideas for the “Predator”.
The Skunk Cabbage gets its name from the odor created when the leaves are crushed or bruised. The odor will remind you of rotten meat! This nasty smell attracts insects that think the smell is wonderful. The insects in turn provide the pollination needed for this plant to reproduce.
Skunk cabbage is poisonous to mammals including humans. Bears and snapping turtles however love it. The only other thing that eats this ancient plan, are slugs, snails and insects. If humans touch this plant a burning sensation will result. That’s Nature’s way of saying watch out!
Native Americans used this plant for a variety of purposes. When the roots were boiled in fats the concoction was used for sores, swelling and ringworm. When drank, the outcome was vomiting or an expectorant. The Iriquois Indians would wave the Skunk Cabbage over a woman’s genitals to promote childbirth! When a woman is past her due date, I would wave whatever it takes!
No matter what you think, this “alien” plant does signal that Spring is here!
Smell your best!