Skunk Cabbage – Tom Paul Trail (lower section)

One of the newly emerged skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) seen next to the extensive bog bridges on the lower section of the Tom Paul Trail – photo by Bill Duane, March 27, 2020

From New England Wildlife Center, Weymouth, MA – Native to eastern North America, skunk cabbage prefers to grow in wetlands. This plant releases a foul smelling aroma which attracts its pollinators and discourages other animals from approaching. While not harmful to the touch, the leaves of skunk cabbage will burn the mouth, and for this reason they may be dried and incorporated into soups and stews. Strangely enough, skunk cabbage is also one of the very few plants known to perform thermogenesis, which is the process of heating itself above the temperature of the air. As a spring bloomer, the plant uses this ability to melt the snow surrounding it, warming up the icy soil and allowing it to sprout. Because of their contractile roots, they effectively grown downward, getting deeper and deeper each year, the oldest of plants are almost impossible to dig up.

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