Friday, March 9, 2012


Heat-generating skunk cabbage is Michigan's earliest wildflower!
(all photos by Jonathan Schechter)

Skunk Cabbage is my favorite "swamp thing" of the waning days of winter. This amazing plant
 is now emerging through the frozen mud and cold soil of fertile wetlands throughout
 southern Michigan. These photos are all from March 2nd at the Ortonville State Recreation Area
just a few miles north of my house.  Although parts of the plant are considered toxic to eat,
Native Americans used skunk cabbage for pain, swelling and muscle aches. 
 But what I find most fascinating is the fact this plant is thermogenic. 
Thermogenic plants have the ability to create heat above the ambient temperature. The top
photo  shows the result  of heat production perfectly as one pushes through remnant snow! 
Research shows bursts of intense metabolism can heat the yellow flower spike (spadix)  within
the purplish shell like spathe as much as 30 degrees above ambient temperature.  A finger
gently inserted into the spathe can  detect warmth on cold days. A spadix peeks out of  the spathe
 in the final photo in a cluster of spathes next to newly green moss.

 Come summer the leaves of this swamp loving heat generator can be as large as elephant ears.
 And why the name skunk cabbage? Crush or tear a mature leaf and your nose will tell you why.



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