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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The first bloom is closer than you think

 As February rapidly approaches, take a close look at what may be starting to pop up in the wet areas near you though I know everything is wet at the moment.  Symplocarpus foetidus or Skunk Cabbage will start to emerge from the ground as a curious brown pod that you may think belongs in a science fiction movie or a spathe.  As the spathe matures, it reveals a spadix which has small yellow flowers.  Eventually the large (almost 2' long) leaves unfurl from the pod. This can become a nesting site of the common yellow throat.  The leaves release a skunk like odor upon being crushed giving them their unattractive name.  The smell attracts insects to the plant, and this is how they are pollinated.  

         Wood ducks and bobwhites will eat the seed of the plant but the leaves are poisonous to all mammals (including us).  Because this plant is such an early riser so to speak, it is able to generate heat from the spathe which allows it to create holes in layers of snow.

         If we actually get snow sometime in the next month, make sure to take a good look in a wet area to see if you can find places where the skunk cabbage has melted away the snow.   It may be smelly, but has developed very interesting adaptations to survive those February and March snowstorms. 

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