Tag Archives: eastern skunk cabbage

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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Skunk cabbages in snow

Photograph of Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) covered with snow.  I didn’t confirm with a thermometer, but these are famous for heating themselves up, maintaining 35 °C (95 °F) internal temperature even when outside air is below freezing.  Heat helps volatilize the awful smell, which can be attractive to flies and beetles, but also creates a hot “room” inside the curved leaf (spathe) that surrounds the inflorescence on the spadix (hidden from view at this angle).  But a more likely hypothesis of why this ability evolved is that thermoregulation protects pollen tube growth and female reproductive structures from frost damage. Either way, one of my favorite plants. Growing in the Crum Woods, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

colin purrington photography: plants &emdash; Eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) in snow.  Crum Woods, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania. They actually heat up to provide warm environments for flies, their primary pollinators.

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