Searching for Spring (and Skunk Cabbage)

Skunk cabbage can generate its own heat, allowing this curling spathe of skunk cabbage to melt the surrounding snow and break through to the surface. Location: Black Partridge Woods, Lemont, Illinois in the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

Skunk cabbage can generate its own heat, allowing this curling spathe of skunk cabbage to melt the surrounding snow and break through to the surface.
Location: Black Partridge Woods / Lemont, Illinois

Today, March 10, 2013, spring officially began in the Chicago area.

For me, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly, when sometime in March, speckled maroon and yellow spathes of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) quietly emerge from beneath a layer of snow or a cloak of brown decaying leaves.

Skunk cabbage enjoys a rare property, shared by only a few of Earth’s plants: It is able to generate its own heat in a process known as thermogenesis. Skunk cabbage can create as much as 27 to 63°F of heat above air temperature, enabling it to melt through late winter ice and snow, and may also serve to attract pollinators to its curious yellow flower head, known as a spadix.

The maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as is grows larger and produces its unique yellow flowerhead known as a spadix. Location: Black Partridge Woods / Lemont, IL in the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

The maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as is grows larger and produces its unusual yellow flower head, known as a spadix.
Location: Black Partridge Woods / Lemont, IL

SEARCHING FOR SPRING

Winter is waning,

I’ve made it to March.

With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.

Temperatures rise,

and snow slowly melts,

With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.

Are you under the white,

in a warmth all your own?

With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.

Are you hiding in leaves,

or still waiting to rise?

With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.

Leafing through litter

on the brown woodland floor,

With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.

Finally up from the mud,

sprouts a burgundy curl.

With eyes to the ground, it is Spring I have found.

At Pilcher Park in Joliet, Illinois, the sun shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage, which if broken, will release a smell reminiscent of skunk.

At Pilcher Park in Joliet, Illinois, the sun shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage, which if broken, will release a smell reminiscent of skunk.

These tender leaves will develop into giants, like the full-grown plants pictured to the right. Location: Black Partridge Woods, Lemont, IL in the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

These tender leaves will develop into giants, like the full-grown plants pictured to the right.
Location: Black Partridge Woods / Lemont, IL
Forest Preserve District of Cook County

© 2013 – 2014, Mike MacDonald. All Rights Reserved.

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4 Responses to Searching for Spring (and Skunk Cabbage)

  1. Rich Witkiewicz says:

    Mike, I really loved the poem. Captured the feeling exactly that I have also gotten searching for that many times elusive skunk cabbage, especially when I’m at a new site and they aren’t where I’d expect them! Of course the images are great as always. I haven’t seen the green leaves pushing up through the snow. As you know these plants are really tough to get a great image of , shooting darn near parallel to the mud and water that’s trying to suck your boots off and swallow the tripod and camera! One of my top ten favorite plants cause it’s such an oddball in a fascinating kind of way.

  2. Thanks, Rich! I’m glad you liked the poem. I can tell if a photo is good, but I’m not a poet, so I can’t tell if a poem is any good. I took a chance. You did a great job expressing the difficulty of photographing skunk cabbage. Luckily, it wasn’t a quagmire where I was photographing.

  3. Dave Boege says:

    Mike,
    Great poem. You are a person of many talents. The depth of field in your image from Pilcher Park in Joliet is really impressive. It is a stunning image. I heard Chicago received ten inches of new snow last week, but I’m sure that will not deter you from your spring field trips.

  4. Thanks! The weather rarely stops me. But, bad light definitely does.

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