SKUNK OR SWAMP CABBAGE





(Spathyema fetida; Symplocarpus fetidus of Gray) Arum family



Flowers - Minute, perfect, fetid; many scattered over a thick,

rounded, fleshy spadix, and hidden within a swollen,

shell-shaped, purplish-brown to greenish-yellow, usually mottled,

spathe, close to the ground, that appears before the leaves.

Spadix much enlarged and spongy in fruit, the bulb-like berries

imbedded in its surface. Leaves: In large crowns like cabbages,

broadly ovate, often 1 ft. across, strongly nerved, their

petioles with deep grooves, malodorous.

Preferred Habitat - Swamps, wet ground.

Flowering Season - February-April.

Distribution - Nova Scotia to Florida, and westward to Minnesota

and Iowa.



This despised relative of the stately calla lily proclaims spring

in the very teeth of winter, being the first bold adventurer

above ground. When the lovely hepatica, the first flower worthy

the name to appear, is still wrapped in her fuzzy furs, the skunk

cabbage's dark incurved horn shelters within its hollow, tiny,

malodorous florets. Why is the entire plant so fetid that one

flees the neighborhood, pervaded as it is with an odor that

combines a suspicion of skunk, putrid meat, and garlic? After

investigating the carrion-flower (q.v.) and the purple trillium,

among others, we learned that certain flies delight in foul odors

loathsome to higher organisms; that plants dependent on these

pollen carriers woo them from long distances with a stench, and

in addition sometimes try to charm them with color resembling the

sort of meat it is their special mission, with the help of

beetles and other scavengers of Nature, to remove from the face

of the earth. In such marshy ground as the skunk cabbage lives

in, many small flies and gnats live in embryo under the fallen

leaves during the winter. But even before they are warmed into

active life, the hive-bees, natives of Europe, and with habits

not perfectly adapted as yet to our flora (nor our flora's habits

to theirs - see milkweed), are out after pollen. Where would they

find any so early, if not within the skunk cabbage's livid horn

of plenty? Not even an alder catkin or a pussy willow has

expanded yet. In spite of the bee's refined taste in the matter

of perfume and color, she has no choice, now, but to enter so

generous an entertainer. At the top of the thick rounded spadix

within, the skunk cabbage florets there first mature their

stigmas, and pollen must therefore be carried to them on the

bodies of visitors. Later these stigmas wither, and abundant

pollen is shed from the now ripe anthers. Meantime the lower,

younger florets having matured their stigmas, some pollen may

fall directly on them from the older flowers above. A bee

crawling back and forth over the spadix gets thoroughly dusted,

and flying off to another cluster of florets cross-fertilizes

them - that is, if all goes well. But because the honeybee never

entered the skunk cabbage's calculations, useful as the immigrant

proved to be, the horn that was manifestly designed for smaller

flies often proves a fatal trap. Occasionally a bee finds the

entrance she has managed to squeeze through too narrow and

slippery for an exit, and she perishes miserably.



"A couple of weeks after finding the first bee," says Mr. William

Trelease in the "American Naturalist," "the spathes will be found

swarming with the minute black flies that were sought in vain

earlier in the season, and their number is attested not only by

the hundreds of them which can be seen, but also by the many

small but very fat spiders whose webs bar the entrance to

three-fourths of the spathes. During the present spring a few

specimens of a small scavenger beetle have been captured within

the spathes of this plant.... Finally, other and more attractive

flowers opening, the bees appear to cease visiting those of this

species, and countless small flies take their place, compensating

for their small size by their great numbers." These, of course,

are the benefactors the skunk cabbage catered to ages before the

honeybee reached our shores.



After the flowering time come the vivid green crowns of leaves

that at least please the eye. Lizards make their home beneath

them, and many a yellowthroat, taking advantage of the plant's

foul odor, gladly puts up with it herself and builds her nest in

the hollow of the cabbage as a protection for her eggs and young

from four-footed enemies. Cattle let the plant alone because of

the stinging, acrid juices secreted by it, although such tender,

fresh, bright foliage must be especially tempting, like the

hellebore's, after a dry winter diet. Sometimes tiny insects are

found drowned in the wells of rain water that accumulate at the

base of the grooved leafstalks.





RED, WOOD, FLAME, or PHILADELPHIA LILY

(Lilium Philadelphicum) Lily family



Flowers - Erect, tawny or red-tinted outside; vermilion, or

sometimes reddish orange, and spotted with madder brown within; 1

to 5, on separate peduncles, borne at the summit. Perianth of 6

distinct, spreading, spatulate segments, each narrowed into a

claw, and with a nectar groove at its base; 6 stamens; 1 style,

the club-shaped stigma 3-lobed. Stem: 1 to 3 ft. tall, from a

bulb composed of narrow, jointed, fleshy scales. Leaves: In

whorls of 3's to 8's, lance-shaped, seated at intervals on the

stem.

Preferred Habitat - Dry woods, sandy soil, borders, and thickets.

Flowering Season - June-July.

Distribution - Northern border of United States, westward to

Ontario, south to the Carolinas and West Virginia.



Erect, as if conscious of its striking beauty, this vivid lily

lifts a chalice that suggests a trap for catching sunbeams from

fiery old Sol. Defiant of his scorching rays in its dry habitat,

it neither nods nor droops even during prolonged drought; and vet

many people confuse it with the gracefully pendent, swaying bells

of the yellow Canada lily, which will grow in a swamp rather than

forego moisture. Li, the Celtic for white, from which the family

derived its name, makes this bright-hued flower blush to own it.

Seedmen, who export quantities of our superb native lilies to

Europe, supply bulbs so cheap that no one should wait four years

for flowers from seed, or go without their splendor in our

over-conventional gardens. Why this early lily is radiantly

colored and speckled is told in the description of the Canada

lily (q.v.).



The WESTERN RED LILY (L. umbellatum), that takes the place of the

Philadelphia species from Ohio, Minnesota, and the Northwest

Territory, southward to Missouri, Arkansas, and Colorado, lifts

similar but smaller red, orange, or yellow flowers on a more

slender stem, two feet high or less, set with narrow, linear,

alternate leaves, or perhaps the upper ones in whorls. It blooms

in June or July, in dry soil, preferably in open, sandy

situations.





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