Saturday, April 23, 2011

Champ sighting on Perkins Pier

Champ taking advantage of the free meals associated with the high waters of Lake Champlain.

Whether you believe it or not, spring is here. Waters are rising, tree buds are swelling, flowers are sharing sweet volatile oils, and my nose is tingling. With the coming of spring we may be unlikely to see alien organisms swimming towards the municipal dumpster, but we are sure to see a peculiar swamp plant peaking its head out from the decomposed matter dressing the soil. This strange entity is Symplocarpus foetidus, otherwise known as skunk cabbage.

The name is a Latin-Greek derivative meaning stinking (fetid) connected (symploke) fruit (carpus). The odor, revealed by damaging the flower parts, echoes the musky smell of a fox den. The flower, called a spadix, produces many fruits and is protected by a marbled magenta hood known as a spathe.


The flowers arrive as early as mid-February slowly melting the snow surrounding them through mammal-like metabolic activity. They are pollinated by flesh and carrion flies attracted to their putrid odor. You may be familiar with its relatives the wild calla, and jack-n-the-pulpit.


I found the skunk cabbage in a swampy wetland within Leddy Park in Burlington, VT.

The new seeds take 5-7 years before they produce flowers and can persist for many years. To me they look prehistoric and alien compared to the Trillium growing alongside them.

By now they are rotting away, the purple alien claw shriveling in response to the impetus of Spring. The strange visitors will soon be a mutated memory replaced by their large ovaloid smaragdine leaves, the delicate curves of trillium, and the robust blooms of the silver maple, more signs of proof that spring is here.

This is not skunk cabbage (in case you were confused), these are Trillium shoots.

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