Sunday, April 15, 2012
Spring ephemerals - Skunk cabbage (part I)
Oh, and a spring ephemeral refers to herbaceous perennial plants (above ground parts die back each year) that have a lifespan shorter than the growing season, usually less than two months in April and May. They have to emerge, leaf out, flower, and go to seed before the canopy closes in and blocks out the shade. I'll be posting updates on spring ephemerals over the next couple of weeks as they continue to emerge in the Burlington area.
The one pictured above is a skunk cabbage (Symplcarpus foetidus). Naturalists love to note this plant's ability to generate its own heat to warms itself up on the cold late winter/early spring days to jump start its growth. I was fascinated by the rotting smell of its flower and swarm of blue bottle flies (Calliphora vomitoria) circling around (pictured above). The ravine I was in grades from ash/maple/oak to hemlock/yellow birch. There's considerably less skunk cabbage 'neath the hemlocks, and the few that were there were considerably further behind in terms of development.
Where: I was finding the skunk cabbage on small flood banks of a brook at Red Rocks. Soils were very silty sands, enriched from calcium rich bedrock upslope. Also seemed higher density in alluvial areas where movement downslope (not just downstream) was enriching the soil.