Skunk Cabbage? Score!

March 11, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Snow sifts through the trees, piling on the deep drifts still on the ground, as we make our way down to Minnehaha Creek.   We’ve come  on our  first wildflower search of the year to look for the first wildflower of the year: skunk cabbage. Near the end of a long winter, we are hungry for wildflowers.

Behind us the falls roar.  Next to the path the creek flows fast and ice-free on its way to join the Mississippi River.  We cross a bridge and cautiously creep along the snow-covered boardwalk to the first opening in the snow.  Down in the wet ground two purplish pointed shapes poke up, curling around each other.  

Skunk cabbage!

A little farther along in open water on the creek side of the boardwalk we find at least a dozen more skunk cabbages emerging.  Each will eventually open to reveal a round yellow center covered with small white flowers that, so they say, give off a skunkish sort of smell we have yet to experience.

 It will be weeks before the next early spring flowers appear, the snow trilliums and hepaticas. Why is skunk cabbage so early?

Like many other woodland flowers, skunk cabbage needs to bloom and gather its share of sunlight before the trees overhead leaf out and shade the ground.  What makes skunk cabbage even earlier than other springtime wildflowers are its deep, extensive roots that provide starch for the plant to  generate its own heat–as much as 70 degrees–to melt its way up out of the frozen earth.  Snow doesn’t stand a chance.  

As we make our way back up the slippery slope of a road snow still falls, icing the bare branches of the trees. But we know that under the snow skunk cabbages, like us, are burning for spring.

Author: Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo,

Phyllis Root is the author of fifty books for children and has won numerous awards. Kelly Povo, a professional photographer for over thirty years, has exhibited in galleries and art shows across the country. She and Phyllis Root have collaborated on several books. This is their first book on Minnesota's Native Wildflowers.

4 thoughts on “Skunk Cabbage? Score!”

  1. wow- this made the evening shine -in the middle of our snow storm! so beautiful and hopeful. thank you both so very much for getting out there and finding these treasures!

  2. Skunk cabbage is such an interesting plant. We found some at the spot we always check on. It was up there too, now I’m wondering if the snow trillium will be right behind!

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