Skunk Cabbage

Common Name: Skunk Cabbage.

Scientific Name: Symplocarpus Foetidus.

What to look for?  Apparently, the Skunk Cabbage holds title to the first blooming plant of each new year – as early as late February. If you must venture out in the snow, you will find a small, spongy, egg-shaped flower that grows up hidden in a leaf called a spathe that forms a hood around it. If you are more inclined for a summer viewing, you can look for its large, green leaves unfurling. For any viewing, keep in mind that there is a reason for the name “Skunk Cabbage” as it becomes more malodorous with age.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? In summer, you can find Skunk Cabbage growing sporadically along the walking path next to Carillon Stonegate Pond and the low fields adjacent to the woodlands. In late winter and early spring, you can find the Skunk Cabbage’s flower in bloom – and unfortunately smell it!

How big are they? Skunk Cabbage leaves grow in length to approximately two feet. The leave are approximately one foot across.

Where do they grow and thrive? Skunk Cabbage is found in the northern and eastern portions of the U.S., including northern Illinois and into eastern Canada. Habitats generally include shady wetlands, wet deciduous woodlands, swamps, wet thickets where some underground seepage occurs, edges of fens, seeps along wooded hillsides, and springs.

When do they bloom? The blooming period occurs from late February into April.

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? The flowers of the Skunk Cabbage are pollinated by flesh flies, carrion flies, and various gnats that are attracted by its unpleasant odor.

Interesting Facts About the Skunk Cabbage:

  • Skunk Cabbage is usually the first plant to bloom in the spring.

  • Skunk Cabbage distinguishes itself from all other plants by the fact that it generates heat - enough so that its flower can remain 36 degrees F warmer than the surrounding air for a period of about two weeks and allowing it to grow in frozen soil.

  • It is possible that this species crossed the Bering Land Bridge during one of the ice ages to reach North America.

  • Most animals avoid Skunk Cabbage because it causes a burning sensation when eaten, but bears will eat young plants in the spring.

  • As the flower of Skunk Cabbage matures it gives off a distinct, skunk-like odor, an odor that can also be produced by crushing any part of the plant.

For more information on the Skunk Cabbage and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, University of Texas Wildflower Center, and Minnesota Wildflowers.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!