Skunk Cabbages along Denny Creek Trail

I was headed up Denny Creek trail to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness when I caught a slight scent in the air.  I rounded a corner to discover a wet depression in the forest floor filled with skunk cabbages shooting up flowering spikes.  Some very impressive western cedar trees surrounded the depression.  Two cedars were more than three feet in diameter and rose over a hundred feet into the air.  These old growth cedars must be many hundred years old.  Cedars like these wet depressions too.  I was not quite to the official wilderness boundary but it was clear this patch of forest had wilderness character.

The flower stalk and yellow bract that partially surrounds the stalk form the flower on the Skunk Cabbage. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The flower stalk and yellow bract that partially surrounds the stalk form the flower on the Skunk Cabbage. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The skunk cabbages are quite showy.  A large yellow bract or spathe partially surrounds the flowering stalk or spadix.  The spadix is covered by small florets.  Each floret can develop into a berry like fruit.  The foul scent attracts rove beetles which pollinate the flowers by walking around them looking for the source of the smell.  The large green leaves were only just starting to grow.  In another few weeks, these plants will have dark green leaves up to 2 feet long and half as wide.  In Pennsylvania, where I was raised, a different skunk cabbage was the first flower of spring and finding it helped provide the emotional support that spring was coming soon.  Keep you eye out for these interesting plants next time you are out in the woods.

The yellow bract or spathe of a skunk cabbage is quite pretty when you study it closely. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The yellow bract or spathe of a skunk cabbage is quite pretty when you study it closely. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

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