Skunk Cabbage

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Bestiary


Direct link to photoset. If watching the slideshow, be sure to expand to full screen.

Symplocarpus foetidus

Here’s to the skunk cabbage,
first plant to raise a toast to spring,

even if it sometimes has to melt a hole
right through the ice,

a plant that grows
its own hothouse

& keeps it at 22 degrees Celsius
for weeks on end.

Half monk, half cobra,
it shares its solitude

with the earliest flies & beetles,
whose springtime fancy

turns to putrefaction: gut piles,
winter-killed deer, & in the swamp

a leathery curl of old meat.
It gives off a heat & fragrance

the real thing can rarely match—
pornography for insects.

Only after pollination is consummated
does the skunk cabbage unfurl

its eponymous leaves—
huge sails with yellow stitching

& a green that stays fresh
long into the summer,

while dark berries
swell on the spadix

& the roots tighten their grip
on the pungent mud,

the whole plant inching
into the earth.

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13 Comments


  1. Now *this* is an ode to spring! Fabulous descriptions, gorgeous photos. I especially love the shot of the internal view in #5.

    Reply

    1. Deb, I’m glad you like it! It was your comment the other day that helped spark it.

      These were all photographed at a little county park about five miles away. On the same outing yesterday, I got some video footage of wood frogs, which I hope to put to good use in the coming days.

      Reply

  2. As Deb said! I didn’t even know that skunk cabbages come in that amazing colour. Here they are yellow and grow in boggy areas where one would have to put on high rubber boots to get close up. Oh, I must go look for them before they’re finished, I may be too late!

    Reply

  3. Oh yeah, those are gorgeous!

    Reply

  4. What fun! Skunk cabbage is one of my favorite spring flowers, and you really give it its due here. Thanks.

    Reply

    1. Glad you thought I hit the mark. I also like wild ginger among the early wildflowers — the way it buries its earth-colored flower in the leaf duff.

      Reply

  5. Breathtaking poem! Masterful slideshow. I was excited but a bit baffled by “the whole plant inching into the earth”.

    Reply

    1. High praise — thanks! Quoth the Wikipedia:

      Eastern Skunk Cabbage has contractile roots which contract after growing into the earth. This pulls the stem of the plant deeper into the mud, so that the plant in effect grows downward, not upward. Each year, the plant grows deeper into the earth, so that older plants are practically impossible to dig up. They reproduce by hard, pea-sized seeds which fall in the mud and are carried away by animals or by floods.

      Reply

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