Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Search for Skunk Cabbage

We took off and went down to Clear Creek, up the hill to the pond park to hike down to the lake that has a long inlet area where we hoped to find Skunk Cabbage in the shallows.

Prettier names for this unusual plant are Meadow Cabbage, Suntull and Swamp Cabbage. I think the name Swamp Cabbage suits it best as that is the enviroment this native plant grows in.

It was good to see green. Ever since the snow has left
the earth the fields and
lawn that I cast my eyes on everyday have remained a tan/yellow
color and I
have been yearning for the sight of green. The horsetail( rushes)
all along Clear Creek seemed blue-green.

The moss in the forest was deep emerald-green.

The Eastern Hemlocks were my favorite green and even the lake appeared a dark,
solemn, waiting green as we descended the hill towards it.

Jim commented that it was like the lake had never
really gone to sleep all winter. A pair of White-Breasted Nuthatch sang and
chattered as they flitted here and there from the tops of the tulip poplar

Rising from the water, the first wildflower to bloom
in Ohio, the insignificant Skunk Cabbage, seems pre-historic. This plant is not
pretty like a bluebell or a spring beauty, this plant is.... well... this plant
is different. This flowering capsule can produce its own heat. This is the
plant's secret to blooming first. I have read this wonder of swampy areas can
generate temperatures up to 30 degrees over the surrounding air temperature and
it does this while growing in cold water, often while surrounded by snow and

 A plant that is like an animal, a
mammal, in that it can generate heat,
how unusual is that? As I look at it I half
expect it to lift its hood and start shuffling about,
muttering. A colony of
Swamp Cabbage looks all the world to me like a gathering of
miniature, hooded monks huddled together, their heads down, meditating and mediating.

Yet, the longer I sit and let the lapping sound of the lake as it moves and
quivers wash over me and the longer I let the sweet sunshine and the cool
hemlock cleaned air soak into my face and the longer I sit there and absorb
Skunk Cabbage the more I would not be surprised if this specimen is not a plant
at all. Instead I have come to feel it is the source of much, past lore and
folktales of tiny gnomes and sprites that live and wander about in the woods
and hidden places. I am quite sure when I leave a congregation of Skunk Cabbage
I hear them whispering together and drooping from their frozen postures that
they adhered to while I was in their midst. When we people turn our backs they
go about their duties being Gnomes and keeping the wild ways prospering.

If you want to learn more about Swamp Cabbage Craig Holdrege has beautiful drawings and insights into the plant here,

Everyone is ready for spring, and daffodils. It is that time of year again. The skunks are on their mating journeys, the horse is losing her winter coat and the honeybees are adventuring from the hives to gather on the early spring blooms of the Maple, the Pussy Willow, the Alder, the Skunk Cabbage and the Honey Locust, to name just a few.

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