A few days ago I headed to Sugarloaf Mountain for my first botanizing session of 2018. I found lots more trailing arbutus, but it’s still in bud. I’ll keep checking.
Some of the aliens are starting to flower (veronicas, bittercresses), but otherwise the only plant blooming is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus; Araceae). The two pointy things pictured here are spathes, modified leaves (bracts) that enclose the flowers, shown below.
Skunk cabbage is a plant of wet places. When it’s not growing right in water, it’ll be in very wet soil. In a few weeks the leaves will start emerging and unfurling. A stand of bright green skunk cabbage is a cheery sight in early spring, but don’t step on them unless you want first-hand knowledge of how they got that common name.
The earliest flower you’ll find in the mid-Atlantic piedmont is skunk cabbage, a low-growing plant of wetlands. That reddish-brown thing in the lower right of the picture above is the inflorescence; actual flowers are within. Not long after flowering, the bright green leaves will appear and then unfurl. They can reach a length of 24 inches and a width of 12 inches.
Here’s what the new leaves look like, with a spent flower next to them. The frilly looking plant to the right is cleavers, by the way.
Skunk cabbage ranges from Quebec to North Carolina, and north-west to Minnesota. It’s endangered in Tennessee. Another related plant goes by the name skunk cabbage – Lysichiton americanus, also in the Araceae – but this one is found in the Pacific northwest.