Skunk cabbages blooming in the snow

For fans of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), here are a several photographs of from Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. You can see the spadix (an inflorescence) peeking out from inside the warm cavity formed by the spathe (a modified leaf). The spathes are a bit frost damaged because they emerged in early December this year, and their thermogenic capabilities weren’t sufficient to fully weather the cold.

Colin Purrington Photography: Plants &emdash; Eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowering in snow

Colin Purrington Photography: Plants &emdash; Eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowering in snow

Here are some that emerged too soon and were damaged by freezing temperatures. There might be fully viable flowers within but I didn’t want to disturb them.

Colin Purrington Photography: Plants &emdash; Eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) with frost damage

Finally, here is a photograph from a prior year to show what they look like when they are not damaged by frost. They look like porcelain replicas of rotting beef tongues.

Colin Purrington Photography: Plants &emdash; Eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) spathes

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Snow fly

If you’re out on a nature walk today, keep your eyes peeled for snow flies. These are essentially wingless crane flies loaded with antifreeze. This one is a male Chionea scita, I believe. Not much is known about these insects, although there is speculation that at least some members of the genus hang out in rodent burrows eating feces. (Don’t judge.) Please see “The crane fly genus Chionea in North America” (Byers 1983) for more details.

You might note that it has halteres, which is interesting because these are organs used in flight (they are modified wings … which is why flies only have one pair of wings). Would be fun to figure out whether snow fly halteres still work, though that would have to be inferred by anatomy and maybe some electrophysiological tricks. Or perhaps they serve a new function. To see photographs of some flies that have lost their halteres, check out the Braulidae (bee parasites) or Hippoboscidae ovinus (sheep ked). I love wingless flies. Did a presentation on them when I took entomology during high school … and have been creeped out and impressed by them ever since.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; snow-fly

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Creepy blob of resin on a tree

While searching for yellow brain fungus on a hot day in December, I stumbled across this twisted little blob of gunk nestled in a bark crevice. At first I was all excited that it might be some sort of snow fungus (e.g., Tremella fuciformis) that was past its prime, but I’m pretty sure it’s just resin, gum, or sap — not sure which. But I’ve never seen resin with little spheres blebbing out, and nothing with a white membrane. It’s creepy. If you have more information or have wild speculation, please send me a note or leave a comment. Approximately 1″ long. Photographed at Lake Mohonk, New Paltz, New York.

I really had wanted this to be a slime mold … perhaps an immature Trichia or Stemonitis. If you’re a slime mold fan, please weigh in.

Colin Purrington Photography: Plants &emdash; Gum blob on bark

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Mountain laurel flowering in December

I stumbled upon a solitary mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) flower yesterday while walking around Lake Mohonk in New Paltz. It isn’t the prettiest mountain laurel flower, but it was DECEMBER 27th, approximately six (!) months before one would expect a mountain laurel flower in this area. This December has been the warmest on record for the area, I think, and Christmas Eve was almost 70 °F (!!). Crazy, and really, really sad. This flower isn’t alone, apparently — the New York Times has a compilation of strange phenology across the country.

Colin Purrington Photography: Plants &emdash; winter-mountain-laurel

If you’d like to see photographs of prettier mountain laurel at Mohonk, here are photographs I took a few summers ago.

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