Related to the Jack-in-the-pulpit, skunk cabbage emerges as a mottled maroon or brown hood called a spathe. Inside an opening in the spathe is a club-like head of tiny flowers known as a spadix. Huge rhubarb-like leaves up to two feet long come out after the spathe emerges and last until September. For the last several years, I only saw skunk cabbage leaves and missed seeing the plant in bloom.
Skunk cabbage is one of the first wildflowers to appear every year because it can heat its environment. For about two weeks, the plant has the ability to warm the air near it up to 36 degrees higher than the ambient air temperature. Growing in wet woodlands and marshes, skunk cabbage can melt ice and snow around it.
The heat emitted by these skunk cabbage plants has helped to melt the ice and allow them to emerge.
The "skunk" in its common name and the Latin root word for fetid in its scientific name (Symplocarpus foetidus) suggest that the plant stinks. Skunk cabbage reportedly has a bad odor when crushed, but my nose has never gotten close enough to a flower to smell anything bad. The odor attracts flies, bees and gnats to enter the spathe and pollinate the flowers on the spadix.
Having helped to melt a patch of snow, skunk cabbage plants bloom back-to-back.
The spathe of a skunk cabbage plant ready to emerge in the space the plant has opened in the snow.
I left Petrifying Springs Park with a large splotch of mud on my jeans and very muddy boots that took me a half hour to clean. But finding so many skunk cabbage plants in bloom, especially after the dearth of the last few years. made it worth it.