WINTER WOODLAND VISITORS
For some reason, folks find it hard to believe that you can find flowers blooming in the woods in the middle of winter, even in the snow. Yet, each year I venture out, camera in hand, and take pictures of these exotic blossoms that hide among the leaves and mosses. They are not always easy to spot, yet once you encounter one, you are liable to see many more. They emerge from the swap like alien capsules that unfurl to give us a glimpse of a round and brain-like, life form within.
What could I possibly be talking about? Flowers, with no stem or leaves, growing directly on the ground or in the water - in the middle of Winter!?! I was just kidding. There’s no such thing. That is, unless you count the Skunk Cabbage, that strange and beautiful creature that looks like a lush lettuce and smells like a skunk. However, well before these plants, burst forth to decorate large swatches of swampland, they send up a scouts.
Each plant bears a single blossom that is attached to a root system that resembles a multi-legged octopus. If you see a cluster of capsules coming up together, it means that several roots are growing in the same spot, so you can just imagine the entanglement of root tentacles under that mud. It is actually difficult to find individual plants, which is probably because each flower produces a whole mess of seeds nad then just sits there.
I keep using the word capsules. The sheath of the plant is called the spathe and the ball of flowers inside is called a spadix. The spathe has no reproductive purpose. It is there to protect the blossom. However, it serves another purpose of creating a little chamber, which maintains a temperature that is warmer than its surroundings, attracting flies that shelter there at night, and pollinate the plants in the process. So I guess that could be considered the spathe’s reproductive purpose.
On the subject of temperature, the Skunk cabbage has this amazing ability (known as thermogenesis), where it can raise its body temperature considerably above that of its surroundings. This is why, when you find them growing up through the snow, the area around the plant has melted. This raise in temperature also helps the plant disseminate it rotting flesh aroma, attracting the flies. I tell you, the plant has it all worked out!
While we spend our winters huddling inside, those little blighters are out there, having a fine old time, reproducing all over the place. By the time we get to see the leaves appear, they’ve already sewn their wild oats, and we missed it all. Of course, you could go out there and check out the flowers, but I’m not guaranteeing and action.