Skunk Cabbage is one of the first plants to bloom in spring time along the east coast of the United States and certainly one of my favorites. I love how their bright green color contrasts with the brown leaves of the forest floor and still barren trees.
Skunk Cabbage favors marshy wetland areas and forested stream beds and is known for its pungent smell if you break or tear a leaf. This is thought to deter predators, but also attracts pollinators such as bees, beetles and flies.
But the coolest thing about Skunk Cabbage is that it generates its own heat like a mini bio-reactor, reaching temperatures that are 60-95 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding air temperature! Unlike other plants that convert sunlight into energy using photosynthesis, Skunk Cabbage generates heat through cellular respiration (like people), enabling it to break through frozen ground in early spring to flower well before other plants. Their heat also servers to keep the pollinators warm, so they spend less energy and stay on the plant longer, increasing the chance of fertilization.
So next time you’re walking along the Appalachian Trail and you see Skunk Cabbage, think about what an incredible plant it is.