Skunk Cabbage, with Paul Tappenden

Local wild forager (and frequent Nature Place collaborator) Paul Tappenden usually tells us what’s wild and edible in and around our area every month in our newsletter, The Dirt. This month he tells us about Skunk cabbage, not a wild edible, but rather, a wild smellable.

Even though February seems to be a pretty bleak month of year, it is that magical time when you will find strange, exotic blossoms appearing throughout the woods and marshes – the flowers of the ubiquitous skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

Although they are not edible, they are worth making the effort to see. Mind you, you’ll need to put on a good pair of boots and make your way into the nearest bog. If you look carefully, the colorful pod-like blooms will reveal themselves to you. Once you recognize one emerging from the mud, you’ll begin to notice more. Before long, more and more will appear, some growing singly and others in clusters, varying in size, shape and color, each with its own personality.

Skunk cabbage is what is known as a thermogenic plant. It can adjust its own body temperature, so much so that it can be up to 50 degrees warmer than its surroundings. This allows it to send out its somewhat fetid (skunk-like) aroma on cold days, attracting flies that seek the warmth of the encompassing spathe making up the outside of the flower. Flies will often pass the night in the warm interior, inadvertently gathering pollen along the way, which they carry to the next flower they visit.

Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He will be leading identifications walks once a month in our area beginning in March. See regularly updated blogs, videos, a calendar of events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at www.suburbanforagers.com.

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