23 March 2013

Skunk Cabbage

Posted by Callan Bentley

On Friday, I took a field trip to DC with Geologic Map of the Washington West Quadrangle author Tony Fleming, City of Alexandria Natural Resource Specialist/Plant Ecologist Rod Simmons, and a host of interested folks from many different professions and localities.

We were interested in looking at ecological relationships between rocks and plants, and had a pleasant afternoon hiking through Rock Creek Park. We also got in a little archaeology!

One thing I was struck by was this skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus):

Bam! That’s green!

This extraordinary plant appears on page 1000 of the new Flora of Virginia volume, a copy of which I picked up last weekend when I spoke at the annual workshop of the Virginia Native Plant Society in Richmond. It stinks like a skunk, is exothermic (meaning it generates heat with which it can melt its way upward through snow cover), and it is found in damp areas. Check out its primordial looking fruit (white arrow)! It resembles a mushroom to my eye…

The unfurling of the skunk cabbage leaves is one of the first signs of spring around here. Soon it’s going to warm up! Really! (I hope…)