If you are afflicted with melancholy at this season, go to the swamp and see the brave spears of skunk-cabbage buds already advanced toward a new year...There is no can’t nor cant to them. They see over the brow of winter’s hill. They see another summer ahead. -- Henry David Thoreau
rock tripe and how it manages to pluck enough moisture and nutrients from the air that it can colonize rock surfaces. Today, we bring you skunk cabbage -- which not only survives in a wetland environment many plants find inhospitable, but manages to attract pollinators in late winter, when nothing else is flowering.
To attract those pollinators, skunk cabbage relies more on guile than on charm. The skunk cabbage flower is no sweet-smelling bull's eye like most of the flowers we'll see later in the year. In fact, it stinks. Somehow, this plant has figured out how to make the molecules cadaverine (normally put off by rotting flesh) and skatole (otherwise found in scat). And with them, it attracts flies and beetles seeking a meal.
And skunk cabbage has one more trick up its sleeve (or should we say, spathe). Amazingly, it produces its own heat -- it may be 50 degrees or more above the ambient air temperature when the female flowers are in full bloom. This brings in more insects. For one thing, the warmth makes the stinky carrion smells more volatile. And insects might expect a piece of carrion to be warm, because of the heat released by the bacteria that are breaking it down.
So, if you've been feeling the melancholy of the season, or having trouble seeing the summer ahead...it's a great time to start looking for flowers.
In your yard: You won't have much luck growing skunk cabbage unless you've got a wetland in your backyard. If you do, go for it -- skunk cabbage are deer resistant, and that foliage is hard to beat.