Time and again it has been found convenient for aesthetic purposes to disregard the comely Skunk Cabbage in reckoning on the first or earliest of our spring wild flowers to blossom. But the Hepatica and its host of admirers must content themselves with at best second place, as the first honour is honestly earned by the former flower. It is very frequently found in full bloom, with yellow pollen, in February, and it is not at all uncommon to record its occurrence in January. It is not generally known that the low-twisted, one-sided, hood-like and purple stained spikes, which pierce the muck and ooze, or even water and ice, in wet swampy places very early in the spring, are really floral huts, and that if one slips his finger in the side opening he is very likely to find out that important business is being transacted therein. If golden grains of pollen adhere to the finger when withdrawn, it is positive proof of the flower's maturity. True enough, they are unattractive and unpleasantly scented; nevertheless, it cannot be denied that they are very interesting and figure prominently in the earliest rambles of the year. It is also interesting to know that its stout, mottled, horn-like hood is identical in capacity with the white cup of the Calla Lily, to which it is related. The acrid root of the Skunk Cabbage has been used as a remedy for asthma, catarrh, rheumatism, nervousness and hysteria. This plant grows with a rank, tropical vigour, and its profuse, bright green foliage becomes a highly decorative feature in our Eastern lowlands during the summer. The strongly ribbed, rather thin and smooth, firm-textured leaves grow in large, cabbage-like crowns, and vary in length from one to three feet. They have an entire margin, and are broadly egg- or heart-shaped, with a blunt tip. They do not unfold until after the flowering period, and are set on short, deeply grooved stems. Numerous tiny, four-parted, greenish-yellow to purplish-brown florets are densely gathered on a short, thick, rounded and fleshy club or spadix, which is hidden within the large, thick, purple lined, shell-like hood. The spadix finally enlarges and becomes somewhat spongy, and encloses numerous bulb-like berries which turn to a bright scarlet in the fall. Frequently two or three flower-heads spring up together with the lightly rolled leaf, all protected with several dingy, sheathing leaflets. Every part of the plant emits a foetid odour, and reminds one of the offensive smell attached to the Purple Trillium and Carrion Flower. The flowers may be found from January to April, from Nova Scotia to Ontario and Minnesota, and south to Florida and Iowa.
Root cluster and section of flower.
SKUNK CABBAGE. Symplocarpus foetidus.