Some of the most fascinating things you learn by accident. That is how I became aware of the forces of the Witch Hazel. I was taking a botanical illustration class at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania and had an assignment to collect some botanical materials to draw in the next class. Being fall, I collected crunchy leaves, seed pods and acorns. I placed everything in a small cardboard box on top of the TV where they would stay, and I wouldn’t lose them, until next class. A couple evenings later I am settling in for the night, curled up in a chair watching what my dad calls “the idiot box”. During a lull in the program I hear a noise. A faint tap. What in the world?
If you aren’t looking where you are going in the early spring muck, you may miss these wonders. As I was hiking this weekend, I admit, I stepped on one of these flowers camouflaged among the fallen leaves and reflective puddles of melting snow. To me, seeing these means spring is on its way. This year, they are blooming a little bit later than their typical February debut, but even these curiosities couldn’t get themselves out from underneath the thick blanket mother nature provided this winter. A little bit of snow is no challenge for these native perennials, in fact, like fancy ski resort walkways (so you don’t slip getting to the lodge for that refreshing beverage), they have their own internal snow melting system. Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) creates its own heat! Know who else does this, a process also known as thermogenesis? People, mammals. Yes, here we have a plant that creates its own heat, like we do. Well, not exactly like we do. But, this blog isn’t about plants that make their own warmth, it’s about plants that move and how they move. So why the skunk cabbage? Two reasons.
Not gonna lie – I was excited to see these little ones blooming along the Perkiomen Trail. I took this photo Tuesday March 11, 2014 while on a 6 mile walk on this 20 mile rail trail in Southeast Pennsylvania. Anyone who knows me knows I love winter and snow. We all know how snowy it has been in the northeast and mid atlantic. I have snowboarded, snow tubed, snow shoed and even turned my back deck steps into a sledding track, but I am running out of things to do in the snow. I am ready to plant my peas. I am ready to sift compost. I am ready for the skunk cabbage, which should be up already around me but isn’t yet. So when I saw these petite beauties blooming along the trail, I giggled and did a little dance (really!). Honey bees were as excited as me, floating in and out of pollen-filled flower after flower, in this sunny little haven. Ah, signs of spring, signs of life, signs of what’s next.