Return to Content

Skunk Cabbage | The First Flower of Spring

Skunk Cabbage | The First Flower of Spring
0 votes, 0.00 avg. rating (0% score)
skunk cabbage

Skunk cabbage pushes its way through a crust of ice in the woods.

She comes to breakfast at my mother-in-law’s house in Madison, Connecticut, almost every Sunday, and my children call her Doctorbettyadams in a sort of breathless rush. It fits her manner of speech and movement. She materializes in the dining room at 7:30 A.M., shares tea and toast and news of the world, then vanishes with a barely audible pop as the air rushes in to fill the void she recently occupied.

One Sunday every spring is special. Doctorbettyadams brings along her spring gift to all her special friends — a neatly potted skunk cabbage.

She goes out to a secret place around the first of March with a garden trowel and a pail. She looks for the dimpled patches of snow that mark her quarry as plainly as any X on a pirate’s treasure map. Skunk cabbage generates heat as it grows and melts its way through the remaining crust of snow to claim the title of the first flower of spring. She gently separates the plant from the earth with her trowel, drops it in her pail, and moves on until the pail is full.

Skunk cabbage earned its homely name by its aroma, which has been described as “a mixture of rubber tires and garlic.” The odor and the purple-blotched color of its spathe, or “cabbage,” are a ploy for survival. They mimic the look and smell of carrion, attracting flies and beetles, who transfer its pollen to other flowers needing fertilization.

Partisans of the plant include Thoreau, who praised its “brave spears … advanced toward the new year,” and Henry Seidel Canby, founder of The Saturday Review of Literature, who said: “Skunk cabbages! A thousand sonnets died in that misnomer.”

Like Doctorbettyadams, skunk cabbage is a perennial — it comes back every year. Experts say that were it not for the gradual evolution of its native swamplands into drier terrain, an individual skunk cabbage might live a thousand years.

“I’m not an expert,” says Doctorbettyadams, “just an admirer.” Pop!

Excerpt from “A Gift of the Season,” Yankee Magazine, April, 1986.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Yankee Magazine Advertising

Bring New England Home
plus, get the Tablet Edition FREE!

In this issue: Our Favorite Fall Drives

  • Sweet & Savory Apple Recipes
  • The Mohawk Trail at 100
  • New England's Best Cider Festival
  • Man vs. Seal on Cape Cod
Subscribe Today and Save 44%
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

We reserve the right to remove or edit comments that are offensive or disrespectful to our readers and/or writers, cannot be verified, lack clarity, or contain profanity. Your comments may be republished by Yankee Magazine across multiple platforms.

Register Sign In

©2013, Yankee Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Yankee Publishing Inc., | P.O. Box 520, Dublin, NH 03444 | (603) 563-8111

80th-anniversart-calendar600x350-2