Allow me to share with you my all-time favorite plant, through six pictures that I took myself during the spring-times of 2008 and 2009, mostly at Rogue River State Game Area in Michigan.

 
I am not going to tell you what most people call this humble plant.
I would rather you develop your own opinion of it, without knowing its common name.
 
If you recognize it, and you already know of its “bad rap”, then I ask you to question the validity of what you’ve heard, and take a fresh look at it through the lens of nature awareness and appreciation. 😉

 

symplocarpus foetidus skunk cabbage spadix spathe spring april wetland michigan plant appreciation
This is what it typically looks like in early April where I come from in lower Michigan (mid-section of the “mitt”).
 
The “flower” emerges first, well before the leaves unfurl.

    This “flower” is made up of two parts:

  • a shield-like outer part called a spathe
  • a stiff inner club-shaped structure called a spadix

You may recognize this basic structure if you’ve encountered Calla Lilies, which are in the same family — the Araceae.

 
The outer spathe reminds me of cardboard made of plant tissue. It is usually red-brown to dark purple, with lighter spots.
I LOVE the beauty of its curved structure — wonderful to draw, if you’re artistically inclined.
 
The spadix is like a short little vegetable club inside the spathe.
It is studded with many small “flowers” — which you can see better in the pic below.

 
wetland plants skunk cabbage symplocarpus foetidus liverwort thallus michigan plant appreciation gratitude
Here’s a pic of one of these “flowers” that my son accidentally kicked. I took advantage of the situation by taking a picture, and I’m glad I did!
All that wonderful green speckled texture to the right is moss and liverworts — more awesome wetland plants!
You can also see the beginnings of 3 different leaves here: the larger, more obvious one and the two green spikes.

 
pale skunk cabbage green yellow strange plant symplocarpus foetidus plant wetland appreciation
This is a pic of a rare pale “flower” with hardly any of the darker coloration on it.
The spathe (“shield” part) ranges in color from almost solid dark red-brown, to this super-pale version.
I’d have to say that the majority of those I’ve seen are darker than in any of these pics, closer to solid dark red-purple-brown.

 
wetland plant appreciation skunk cabbage symplocarpus foetidus water log leaves spring michigan
By the end of April where I lived in Michigan, the leaves were starting to come out, as the “flowers” began to die back.

 
wetland forest cinnamon fern skunk cabbage leaves trees michigan riverine woods
In this pic from early June, you can see the leaves (bottom left) mostly grown out, dwarfed by a cinnamon fern.

 
ferns skunk cabbage wetland forest riverine michigan sinky mud plant appreciation
Here, the leaves help create the lush feel of this wetland forest floor, but as I wrote in my caption back in 2009:
“You couldn’t step forward into this without sinking an unknown depth”
— I mean it when I say this is a WETland forest..! :O>

 

    Here are a couple other interesting facts about my favorite plant that grows in my favorite place:

  • It has the rare ability of thermogensis — it produces HEAT! The flowers often start to emerge THROUGH the snow, melting a path and providing warmth and nourishment not only for its own self, but also for the early-emerging insects that pollinate it.
  • It has the rare advantage of contractile roots — each year the entire plant sinks deeper into the wetland soil, lending stability to the flood-prone wet forests it inhabits.

 
So, you may be wondering, WHY would this plant have a “bad rap”?
Well, the fact is that it attracts pollinators and repels grazers through ODOR.
 
To be honest, I’ve not ever smelled it myself. But I DO have an odd sense of smell. I am super-sensitive to many human-derived smells while apparently oblivious to certain nature-smells like “stink bugs” and garter snakes. Nope, I’ve never smelled those either. My bad. I guess my Creator equipped me well for a life of gratitude for nature! :O>

 
If you want to know more about this amazing plant species, here are some links to great resources.
Of course, then you will also find out its common name — what everyone calls it.
Haha, at least I’ve done my best to give my favorite plant a fair trial. LOL
Wikipedia: Symplocarpus foetidus
Encyclopedia of Life (hundreds of pics!)
Illinois Wildflowers
The Infinite Spider
The Nature Institute
USDA Profile

If you want to see more pics of my adventures in the Michigan wetlands, here’s a link to my Flickr photostream from which I got the six pics above. 😀

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