4.01.2010

Skunk Cabbage is Hot

Skunk Cabbage is blooming in Button Bush Swamp at Taltree. 

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is a weird looking plant. What you see above is just the flower. Unfortunately they earn their name. The flowers smell awful. It's how they attract the flies that do the pollinating.

More impressive than their smell is the fact they can produce heat in process called thermogenesis. The skunk cabbage blooms early in the spring when there is still snow on the ground. The plant can literally melt the snow around it so the flowers are accessible to pollinators. One website reported that the skunk cabbage is able to heat the air to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. One theory is that thermogenesis originally developed in plants as a way to spread their fragrance (a term I use loosely, odor, is probably a better word) a greater distance, enticing pollinators far away to stop by.

Only the flowers have this unique ability to heat-up. There are other plants in the arum family that have this same ability including the famous Corpse Flower (Titan arum) that only blooms once every 7-10 years and has an impressive three meters tall spade flower.  They are the largest flower in the world.  Photo right.

Thermogenesis is not easy; the skunk cabbage must use tremendous amounts of energy to stay warm. It is estimated that the skunk cabbage, when maintaining its heat during freezing spring days must use as much energy as a small bird or rodent. In fact the plants employ a whole different respiratory process, one that uses mitochondria and fats which are normally not a part of their respiration process. It takes a lot of stored energy to give off heat which is probably why only the flowers are hot. Once the blooms are done skunk cabbage goes back to its normal cold-blooded process.

Skunk cabbage is cool!  Or should I say hot...

4 comments:

  1. That is SO cool Foy!

    ReplyDelete
  2. vickie4/01/2010

    foy, please tell me that our's is going to get this big!! lol
    vickie jostes

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello my fellow Peace Corp Volunteer. I hope this message finds you well. My name is Farfum Ladroma and I am an education volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. I am writing to you all today because I need your help! My students and I at GPS MATAMAKA (an outer-island Government Primary School in Vava’u) are pursuing a “POSTCARD PROJECT.” I am asking for other PCVs outside of Tonga to please send us a postcard from your host country. We are trying to collect as many postcards from around the world, especially in countries where Peace Corps is currently operating. This project will help enhance my student’s understanding of other cultures and share what Peace Corps volunteers do all across the globe. I will keep a running list of all the postcards received with their origin on my blog at: http://farfumandtonga.blogspot.com/. You may check if your postcard successfully makes it to Tonga. This will be a great cultural exchange for everyone involved and a lot of fun. Please help out if you can and tell everyone you know (even your friends and families back home)! I would greatly appreciate your participation. Thank you very much and malo ‘aupito mei Tonga.
    Please send postcards to:
    MATAMAKA GPS
    c/o Peace Corps
    P.O. Box 136
    Neiafu, VAVA’U
    KINGDOM OF TONGA
    SOUTH PACIFIC

    Best,
    -Farfum (aka Feleti)

    PS. Crazy plants!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous4/10/2011

    Our skunk cabbage at Taltree is up. Last Wednesday we took a quick look near the buttonbush swamp and there are a couple poking thru last years leaves.

    ReplyDelete