Monday, April 03, 2006

Skunk Cabbage in the Stoco Fen

Bill Newman (who has kindly allowed me to use his photographs here and here) got a message to me a few days ago, letting me know that the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) in the Stoco Fen are blooming. Saturday was rainy, but Sunday dawned sunny and only a little cool. So late Sunday morning I went up to take a look. Last spring water ran over the road from the fen in many spots. It's much drier this year--because it spent so much of the winter wet instead of frozen? Too little snow? I don't know, but it was odd to see it so dry.

The colours vary from this rich, dark red to a rather pale yellow, with varying degrees of streakiness in between.

The access to the fen is a road that cuts across one corner, through bog, woods, and cedar bush. I drive through it now and then, but in other years I've only spent time there later in the season, to see the lady's slipper orchids (pink (Cypripedium acaule) and yellow (Cypripedium calceolus)) and the pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) that grow along the edge of the road.

This was the only one I saw with leaves starting. Later the giant leaves of these plant will cover the sand and gravel washed off the road that covers this area.

The skunk cabbage gets its name from its skunky odour. I could smell it from the few flowers that were open--the leaves, when they come, will exude it too if bruised.

The little knobby things inside are the flowers.

The outer shell is called the spathe, round ball inside the spadix, on which the flowers are found. Apparently the smell is attractive--the first bee I've seen this spring was buzzing in and out of the spathe pictured above. I use the term "bee" loosely. It was too fat to make me think "wasp," was not a honey or bumble bee, and after seeing some of Bev's pictures of fantastic mimics of Hymenoptera at Burning Silo I'm unwilling to say for sure that it wasn't a fly.

Fleshy, solid and sometimes shiny.
It might be hard to guess what this was without the context.

The Stoco Fen is a wonderful place, not just for the orchids and the skunk cabbage, but also for birds and mammals (and deer flies in summer). Sunday was pretty quiet, but I was treated to a lovely common raven conversation. This year I'll try to get back for more spring visits, and monitor developments: floral, faunal, and hydrologic.

A number of other bloggers have taken note of the arrival of the skunk cabbage: Five Wells, Endment, Ontario Wanderer, and Woodland Spring. Woodland Spring has a number of other skunk cabbage posts besides the one I've linked, and other spring flowers as well.


Rurality said...

Great pics! I've never seen one of these in real life. Spring is in full swing here in the south. We've even had hummingbirds this past week!


Skunk cabbages around here (central Maryland) already have big leaves.

Endment said...

Wonderful photos. You found them with the deep red color. Lovely

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