Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Stinks

  Don't get me wrong, the spring season is my favorite time of year, but when I am walking through a patch of skunk cabbages it really stinks.

  The skunk cabbage is one of the first spring wildflowers to bloom in our area.  I took these photos a couple of days after the first day of spring.  As you can see, skunk cabbage isn't much of a flower to look at compared with our other spring beauties.  Actually, those skunk cabbage hoods (spathes) look more like elves's hats, or fat little badgers with pointy heads, than flowers.  In fact, the flowers are hidden in those little hoods and for good reasons.

  One reason the flower is hidden inside the spathe is for protection from the weather. Skunk cabbages produce their own heat to push back the snow, to keep their flowers from freezing, and also to help attract pollinators. To illustrate the thermogenic capabilities of skunk cabbage I set up this experiment.  You can see the ambient air temperature is near 40 degrees, while inside the spathe the temperature was a high as 61 degrees. 
Who would have thought I would be out taking the temperatures of skunk cabbages?   

 Don't do it, or some wet, cold, spring day you might be wishing you could crawl inside a skunk cabbage.
If you don't believe me, check out these next two pictures.

This spider set up shop early. 
You might say "its on the ball".
The spider's shop is sheltered, heated, and the only shop open for pollen collectors right now
 Bees find skunk cabbages to be ravishing beauties. 
You would too, if you were huddled together and shivering with your coworkers in some dark place all winter. You even had to go flowerless, until you found this cozy grotto so laden with pollen that you end up covered in it head to toe.

Here I removed the spathe to reveal the object of the bee's attention, and the source of the heat and pollen. 
The spadix and the hidden flowers of spring.

There is much more cloaked in that smelly robe that I haven't mentioned yet.  I'll post more soon.
Yes, skunk cabbage flowers are extraordinary.
This time of year a flower has got to have alot under the hood.
That's what all the stink is about.

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  1. What a fascinating post. Apparently this plant does grow here in Nova Scotia. I'm going to keep an eye out for it.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. A plant that has its own little climate zone. Who knew ?

  2. Sybil,
    Watch for shunk cabbage in swampy areas. You might have to wait a few weeks. You probably have deep snow up there yet,eh?