26.6 °F
December 05, 2016
River Reporter Facebook pageTRR TwitterRSS Search

A stinky survivor

By the time we begin to see leaves along regional streams and riverbanks in mid-April, skunk cabbage plants have already melted through snow cover to produce the plant’s spathe (at left), a mottled shell-like pod that shelters a spadix, a little knob covered with small yellow flowers. The practice, known as thermogenesis, allows plants to raise their temperature through cellular respiration.
TRR photos by Sandy Long

April 24, 2013

A sure sign of spring in the Upper Delaware region, particularly near waterways and boggy wetlands, is the green rising of skunk cabbage plants. So named for the repugnant odor of decaying flesh that the plant emits when bruised, this hardy perennial is also commonly referred to as polecat weed and hermit of the bog.

Skunk cabbage is an especially tenacious plant due to its contractile root system, which results in greater downward growth as roots contract and deepen, pulling the stem of the plant into the soil. The feature makes older plants nearly impossible to remove and helps to stabilize riverbanks.

Visit www.natureinstitute.org/pub/ic/ic4/skunkcabbage.htm to read an enlightening article about skunk cabbage by Craig Holdrege of The Nature Institute.