Signs of spring are everywhere this late February. Red-winged blackbirds are returning north as are sandhill cranes. But some of the most exciting signs of spring are when we start to see the wisps of green in our wetlands. Right now, coming up through the snow is one of the most interesting plants around - Skunk Cabbage! Most people think of skunk cabbage as that plant that emits a foul odor when crushed or walked upon, but skunk cabbage is an incredible and beautiful plant with a great reason behind that foul stench – it attracts the insects necessary to pollinate the plant. The flower of the plant is actually that reddish-colored hooded spadix that you see in the early spring, and the flower, incredibly enough, makes its own heat – actually melting the snow around it!
After flowering, the leaves of the plant begin to unfold with a rosette of the huge, bright green leaves that are characteristic of what many of us recognize as this plant. Skunk cabbage is a plant found only in wetlands, growing with the brilliant yellow blossoms of marsh marigold and under a forested canopy of yellow birch, silver maple, or other trees that are fond of groundwater seeps.
So, the next time you’re out for a late winter’s hike, and happen upon the red spadix of Skunk Cabbage, don’t think of it as that stinky plant with the skunky odor, but instead, think of it as that plant with the incredible ability to push its way through the snow and ice cover of a hard Michigan winter.