What’s that smell? Things you didn’t know you wanted to know about skunk cabbage

Digital Originals

Spring is upon us, the days are getting longer, temperatures are rising and down in the swamps–
the skunk cabbages are sprouting.

Skunk cabbage gets its name from the spell it puts off — somewhat like, yeah, these guys.

The smell does double duty. It shoos off large animals and simultaneously attracts pollinating insects.

But that’s not the only thing that makes skunk cabbage interesting and unusual.

To begin with, it’s a perennial – meaning the same plants poke out of the ground year after year. It has what’s called “contractile roots”, which constantly delve deeper into the earth, pulling the plant’s stem along. It literally grows downward.

It can also generate its own heat, raising its temperature several degrees higher than the surrounding air. This helps it melt through frozen earth and snow when it’s time to say hello to the world.

But, perhaps most importantly, Skunk cabbage is poisonous!

It’s safe to touch, but eating it raw could have fatal consequences. There are ways to cook it to get rid of the poison, but if you don’t know how to do it — DON’T EVEN TRY!

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