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.