May is my favorite month, followed by April, October and September. Forests and fields in spring are nothing short of spectacular in their unfolding beauty. Truly April showers bring May flowers. This season of high hope lures me into the woods and wetlands in search of wild flowers known as spring ephemerals.
Commencing with the earliest bloomers and ending with the closing of autumn, there is a steady parade of unparalleled splendor for the eye to behold. Some blooms are funky and fun, some spectacular and showy, some shy and unassuming, others unusual and odd. It is one in the latter category that is the subject of today's column.
Skunk cabbage is peculiar and often overlooked as a wildflower, not only because of its appearance but because it's found in less accessible areas where people tend not to wander. This plant flourishes along the margins of swamps and seepage areas in eastern Minnesota. It pokes its pretty green coiled leaves up through the sea of tan leaf litter and once you know what you're looking for it's easy to spot. The pointed, brown or purplish mottled spathe, 4 to 6 inches high, encloses a clublike stem called the spadix. It's this structure that sports the tiny flowers of the skunk cabbage.
Insects enter this botanical tepee, probably attracted by odor, warmth and shelter to pollinate. Later, the fruit, which looks somewhat like a small-stalked and roughened potato, develops beneath the clump of large summer leaves. The fruit contains hefty acrid seeds in a bland pulp. Living up to its name, the entire plant has a skunky odor. If you crush the leaves you'll get a real sense of the smell.
Skunk cabbage blooms soon after the snow melts. According to Moyle and Moyle, authors of "Northland Wild Flowers," April 10 to May 10 is the best time to spot skunk cabbage in the Twin Cities. Look for it when you see other spring beauties like hepatica, pasque flower and bloodroot.
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