Even though the last (hopefully!) of the snow is still melting in shady recesses in the woods, the spring wildflower season is upon us. The charmingly-named skunk cabbage is up in our woodland fen, marking the beginning of the season. The non-native but beautiful little winter aconite is already in bloom in gardens and woods around the area, and several varieties of late-blooming witch hazel bring their own shades of yellows and oranges. But skunk cabbage is our first native bloomer, and it's very common if you know where to look. It's a wetland plant, and thrives in water-logged, hydric soils. It's pollinated mostly by flies and the occasional early bee, and the "skunk" part of its name comes from the fetid odor it produces to attract carrion-eating insects. (Nectar production is SO overdone as an evolutionary strategy.) Skunk cabbage has a very high respiration rate, allowing it to generate enough heat to melt surrounding snow and ice and spread its name-sake scent. The insects are doubly attracted to the warm shelter of the fleshy spathe that surrounds the egg-shaped flower, increasing chances of fertilization. No spring wildflower checklist is complete without this amazing plant!
All of our spring ephemerals have specialized adaptations that allow them to complete their entire annual life cycle in the high-risk, high-reward season of early spring. We'll explore those adaptations as the season progresses, providing updates as each wildflower starts to bloom in the woods of Mount St. John. Watch this space!