Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Monday, March 05, 2007

Signs of Spring

Yesterday, I went out to the Fen for the first time in nearly a month. It was a beautiful (though chilly) day. Leon and I went partly just to visit, partly to scatter some seeds. Seeding over snow is fun. You can see exactly where you have scattered seed, and you don’t have to rake the seed into the ground. The raking is truly a tedious and unpleasant chore.

Despite all of my wanderings in warmer places of late, I’m impatient for the end of winter. So I felt rewarded today by seeing some signs of spring in an otherwise wintry landscape. While we were out walking, we saw that the first killdeer of the year have arrived back from their southern migrations. Their raucous calls are a welcome respite from the silence of winter.

The Fen’s first flowering plant of the year has started blooming. Skunk cabbage can come into bloom as early as February. We say several examples today. They are related to Jack-in-the-pulpit. The red structure, called a spathe, surrounds the flowers, which are pretty inconspicuous. They actually produce their own heat, and are capable of melting their way through snow. Like many maroon flowers, they smell like decaying meat, and attract flies that are their main pollinators. There are a few species of flies that are about on warm days in late winter. Perhaps they are also attracted to the warmth that the interior of the blooming spathe provides. Later the plants will produce large, succulent green leaves that resemble (sort of) cabbage, and have a decidedly skunky odor when you crush them. Hence the name. In Illinois, they are mostly restricted to fens.

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At 09:06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is the same stuff we have around here. But in fishing season I like to gaze at it because it is so green and big and one of the first green things in the woods in April. We call it skunk weed so I assume it must be at least from the same fam.

Any new cheese lately?

At 17:07, Anonymous Lemuel said...

I remember skunk cabbage from my old haunts and scouting trips.

My parents used to have Jack-in-the-pulpits in the back yard. I thought they were so neat.

At 21:22, Blogger Ur-spo said...

I too recall skunk cabbage and it being a 'sign of spring'
However, I still prefer Jonquils.

At 06:47, Blogger Doug said...


I prefer jonquils, too. However, they are so far away from bloom right now, and it still feels so wintry here that I'll take what I can get at the moment.

At 19:04, Anonymous Mark H said...

Leave it to a Biologist to see something in spring the "innocent" would be unaware of. We had a flowering plant like the skunky cabbage in a pot ONE year only) that smelled like rotting flesh...because its pollinators were flies....must have been a cousin of the plant in your picture. So I enjoyed your post, and will research to see what we have like that here. Yes, today was another gorgeous sunny day and working outside was no question, the ONLY considered thing to do. Now...I gotta go find some Jack in the Pulpit ............


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