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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

    Arb Notes

    <u step on something purple in the Arb this spring, you will destroy a remarkable plant and your shoes will get stinky. Symplocarpus foetidus, also known as Polecat Weed, Clumpfoot Cabbage, or the Eastern Skunk Cabbage has arrived in the Arb. Skunk cabbage has a peculiar appearance. A fleshy, hood-shaped flower appears in early April, and large lettuce-like leaves follow in May. Its stem remains underneath the ground surface to absorb moisture; skunk cabbage patches are typically found in marshes and wet woodlands.

    As you may have surmised, skunk cabbage got its name because it stinks like a skunk. It smells absolutely foul, but the skunk cabbage has made some brilliant evolutionary adaptations. The odor emitted by the skunk cabbage simultaneously attracts small pollinating insects and repels prospective students and other large mammals. The other fantastic characteristic of skunk cabbages is that they are thermogenic—they have the ability to raise their temperatures above the ambient air temperature. Only a select group of plants have this ability. Skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to flower in the Upper Midwest due to its thermogenic powers. If you find a skunk cabbage patch in the Arb, come closer and soak up the sickly sweet perfume of spring time in the Arb. Or stand back and admire its beauty from afar. There are many ways to appreciate a patch of skunk cabbage.

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