Monday, April 21, 2008

Skunked

Although Katonah is still without the envious spring blossoms already prevalent in more temperate climates, we do have a regional native plant existing only within a small part of the world.

Once it unfolds in the swampy forest, the Symplocarpus foetidus, the “skunk cabbage” is merely another bit of greenery, but when it first emerges, its purple and green coloring and striking shape make it a standout in the otherwise still-brown woods. The plant is native to eastern North America. It can be found from Canada south through Tennessee where it is regarded as an endangered plant. But, according to this USDA map, it mysteriously jumps over Kentucky. Its western boundary is Minnesota. Varieties can also be found in eastern Siberia, northeastern China, and Japan. It is apparently not readily found in Europe.

I have not had the courage to try it myself, but as its name implies, the plant emits a pungent odor when its leaves are torn or bruised, this to attract flies and other carrion feeding insects which help it pollinate. It is also among a small group of plants exhibiting germogenesis: the skunk cabbage can produce heat ranging from 59 – 95° Fahrenheit (15-35° centigrade) above air temperature, allowing it to literally melt its way through snow. Some varieties appear to be poisonous, although several sites cite medicinal uses for the plant. For the most extensive description I’ve found, click here.

2 comments:

J.C. said...

What an interesting plant and commentary! It's the first time I learn of this plant. Thanks!


J.C. of Subang Jaya Daily Photo

Inkster1 said...

It's funny what you learn when you do some research. I've seen that plant for years and had no idea how unique it was. Thanks for stopping by in "Katonah!"