Category Archives: Forest

Eastern Skunk Cabbage

Symplocarpus Foetidus: smelly fruits


Skunk Cabbage Spathe

It’s March and there are hundreds of baby skunk cabbages in the creek near my house. I went six inches deep in the mud with my waterproof boots to visit them up close. The “baby” is actually a reddish purple or mottled yellow shell (the spathe) that holds a cluster of flowers attached to a spike (the spadix). The spathes are miraculous little space heaters that keep the prenatal buds between 60° and 70° and as a side-effect, can melt snow or ice. This thermogenesis is accomplished by metabolizing starch that had been stored in the roots over the winter. A few weeks ago, several of these pointy gnomes were peeking through the snow.

Next to the purple shell, there’s what appears to be a second spathe that’s green, though it’s actually a curl of green leaves. These will unfurl to be a large stinky adult skunk cabbage. The plants have evolved to smell like dead animals to attract early garbage-loving pollinators such as some flies and beetles while repelling early forest carnivores such as deer and rabbit. The fetid odor is actually a good thing for us humans, since the leafy greens look good enough to eat, but would in fact make a poisonous salad.

Mottled Yellow Skunk Cabbage

Three Feathers in a Week

Three feathers; Cooper's Hawk, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay

I found these three feathers in the span of two weeks. The thing is — I wasn’t looking for them. When gifts from nature seem to fall from the sky onto my path, I can’t help but take it personally. Probably I was just looking more closely or maybe it was molting season. Whatever, these feathers buoyed my spirits.

Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Flicker, and Blue Jay

Using this feather identification tool from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I determined that the large striped feather was from a Cooper’s Hawk, the yellow from a Northern Flicker. And, though I couldn’t find the blue one, I think it’s from a Blue Jay.

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Northern Flicker Bird
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
Blue Jay

Bird images from website AllAboutBirds

Revelation in a Piece of Wood

Slice of Spalted Wood
Spalted wood from a sawn tree.

This sliver of maple wood cut from a tree that fell over the Red Rectangle Trail looks like a map of some unfamiliar world so I was surprised to learn that it is exactly that. The squiggly black lines superimposed on the circular growth rings look like meandering rivers. Known as zone lines, they mark territorial boundaries between species of fungi competing for the dead wood. I felt a little sad to learn about this self-serving behavior of micro-organisms. The sadness made me realize that, even though I swear I never thought about it, I had assumed that fungi would share.

For more information on this process known as spalting, visit the Woodland Trust website or meet “Dr. Spalting” herself.