Time for Skunk Cabbage – Watercolor

Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is the earliest ephemeral spring wildflower to appear. Yes, this odd plant is a wildflower! And I found it while hiking just yesterday. Actually, I found tons of them! Skunk cabbage is a very unique plant. It generates its own heat by using oxygen to break down starches that it stored, in a process called thermogenesis. For two weeks, it can maintain an internal temperature of 60-70°F (15.56-21.11°C) while the outside temperature fluctuates in extreme cold. Because of this, skunk cabbage can melt the snow around it or create a dome under a thick blanket of snow. The goal is for the plant to be the very first to offer pollen to the early emerging insects. What an amazing plan and amazing plant.

On the day I found them, there was no snow on the ground. If you gently place your finger in the opening of the skunk cabbage you can begin to feel some warmth. The plants emit a fowl odor of rotting meat when their leaves are bruised or crushed. I did not smell anything foul when I saw them, then again, I was very careful where I stepped. You can find skunk cabbage near water in moist soil and only in the early spring.

Happy hunting and sketching!


  1. Thank you for posting this today, I never knew about skunk cabbage. We live in town but today, coming home from grocery shopping we stopped at a nature area to see the pike spawn. Walking along the path, by golly, there were skunk cabbages in the woods. Instead of just noticing them, I carefully went to one and put my finger in it. Very faint warmth, what an exciting experience!
    And I always enjoy your nature posts and watercolors, thank you!

  2. Beautiful sketch and informative post (as always!), and I sure wish my feet could generate their own heat!! Hope you are staying well and hopeful, Christine! 👍

    1. LOL. Heat regulating feet! Thanks for the kind words on the sketch. I am well and I hope you are too in this weird world we live in. Remember….greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world. That’s a peaceful verse we can hang on to!

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