Symplocarpus foetidus, or the eastern skunk cabbage is hard to miss. Its spiky-shaped maroon leaves are mottled with contrasting patches of bright yellow-green that are easy to spot even if there happens to be snow on the ground (which more than likely is the case!). Skunk cabbages begin to make its appearance in the early winter, when most plants still wait for spring. Take a hike in February through a wetland and you are bound to spot a cone-shaped furl of leaves just waiting to bloom.
An accidental misstep on a skunk cabbage will make its presence even more obvious as you catch a whiff of a smell that will explain the wildflower's name. Surprisingly, the stench is quite beneficial to the plant's survival. It discourages animals from nipping at its leaves and disturbing the soft, muddy wetland habitat it prefers. The smell (most often described as rotting flesh) also attracts bees and flies that act as its pollinators by moving pollen from males to the waiting stigmata of females. Yet, even without this odor-rific characteristic, the skunk cabbage certainly wouldn't be without intrigue.
Besides the putrid smell, another distinguishing feature of the skunk cabbage is its ability to emit warmth. When hiking, you may notice how the ice and snow on the ground around the plant has melted. Skunk cabbages are one of the few plants that exhibit thermogenesis, meaning they have the ability to raise their own temperature. Much like a warm-blooded mammal, the wildflower can regulate its temperature well above the outside temperature throughout the day and night. This attribute also allows the skunk cabbage to melt its way above the frozen ground.
Information found on the Ontario Wildflowers page on The Truth about Skunk CabbageFebruary 20, 2013