Skunk cabbage, aka Symplocarpus foetidus, is sometimes called the first flower of Spring. It’s not surprising that its flowers never fully emerge from their protective hoods (spathes)- because we know how cold and damp it STILL is in New England.

Skunk cabbage has always been something I’ve alternately ignored or feared- especially if it’s encroaching on my gardens. It smells awful (exactly like a skunk) and lives in muck. My friend and nutritionist Alison Birks describes its habitat well in her poem: Symplocarpus Flowers in Spring

“A fetid odor wafts
over tangled root masses–
over dead leafy thick mats–
over clotty black soil carpet.”

This year, I learned something amazing about skunk cabbage that demands sharing. Skunk cabbage creates and regulates heat when flowering (inside a protective hood), giving off a smell and warmth that draw in the first insects of Spring in search of pollen. The flowering skunk cabbage then maintains constant heat day and night just like a warm-blooded animal. Skunkin2The warmth is created when the flower head breaks down stored starches- creating an environment for all new life and heralding the beginning of spring. Melting ice, green leaves… and those flowers we’ve all been impatiently waiting for.

The often- maligned swamp thing known as the skunk cabbage prepares the way for the more socially acceptable Spring plants that smell nice and look stunning. So, next time you’re whining about a delayed Spring, look around-see any skunk cabbage heads? They’re working on Spring so you don’t have to.


A hosta leaf masquerading as a skunk cabbage

For more fascinating info about the skunk cabbage (and other plants) visit The Nature Institute. Love their motto: “If we want to attain a living understanding of nature, we must become as flexible and mobile as nature herself.” Goethe

I searched high and low for some appropriate skunk cabbage- like music. Notice the hat on the cello player, Rushad Eggleston- is it not like the spathe of the skunk cabbage?  Shown here playing with violinist, Duncan Wickel, I’d say both musicians demonstrate some pretty funky style, and yet, their musical skill is so much fun to watch- as long as they don’t play near my garden!

Luckily for you, Paola pillows are available all year long!

Write me if you’d like to read Alison’s amazing skunk cabbage poem in its entirety.  Alison Birks, MS,AHG,CNS is a multi-talented herbalist and practitioner in the nutrition arts.

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