Many know but few admire this big, fetid fellow. Yet, it is one of our most fascinating wildflowers, finely tuned by evolution to deal with a harsh time of year. As it rises in late winter and early spring, the plant burns carbs – just like exercising humans – heating up and melting the frozen earth around it. Once up and blooming, the flower head – protected by a reddish-brown hood – can be as warm as 70 degrees when the air outside is 30.
The hood’s hue serves a second purpose: It’s the color of carrion. Flies are the first insects of the new season. Searching for the thawing carcasses of winter-killed creatures, they are drawn to the color and the smell, thinking the cabbage is a corpse. The plant’s warmth is a plus, encouraging the flies to roam about the ball of flowers, unwittingly picking up pollen to carry to the next mouth-watering skunk cabbage down the line.
The tricks may stink, but they work.