Crisp and colorful and ornamental, the skunk cabbage pushes through the spring mud of the swamp and blossoms in the. weak sunlight of March. There is wry beauty in this flower and its leaves; it is not the beauty of a rose or a lily, nor of any sweet, sunlit thing. But this is the rhythm of an art feeling expressed in coiled, lettuce-green leaves and ivory midribs, in mottled, purple-red-brown, shell-shaped flowers with no stems to lift them above the mud. Just as there is nothing like the jack-in-the-pulpit, so is there nothing at all like the skunk cabbage before the woods awake to spring. The skunk cabbage in northern Illinois comes into being often before the redwingcd blackbirds have come back to the marsh. Skunk cabbage precedes robins and bluebirds by many days, and is so far ahead of the other spring flowers that it usually is well out of bloom before the spring beauties or the bloodroot blossom.
Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Nutt.
Early spring Swamps.
Skunk cabbage is an Arum. The typical shape is there - the stout spadix enclosed in a cupped sheath. On the spadix are borne the small true flowers which are visited by the earliest insects. The stout, squat "flower" emerges darkly and ruddily from the mud and emits a strange carrion odor. In a few days the folded, pale green, waxen Leaves pierce the mud and stand in a tight group beside the flowers. Then as spring advances, the skunk cabbage odor subsides. The flowers shrivel. The leaves grow tall and spread wide on tall petioles, like pale green, glossy burdock leaves. By midsummer the skunk cabbage is known by those knee-high clumps of great caladium-like leaves; known, too, when the leaves are broken, by the strong odor of mustard plaster and onion. It is as staunch an odor as that carrion smell of early spring, or as the perfume of the skunk itself on a summer evening.