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[aroid-l] Symplocarpus

  • Subject: [aroid-l] Symplocarpus
  • From: Rand Nicholson <writserv@nbnet.nb.ca>
  • Date: Sat, 17 Apr 2004 11:04:19 -0300

Thanks to Peter, Petra, Don and all who replied to my question on growing Skunk Cabbage.

Most observations pretty much match mine, here in Eastern Canada, where Symplocarpus foetidus grows natively. The driest I have personally seen skunk cabbage growing and thriving was, perhaps, three feet above the summer water level of a riparian intervale on the Saint John River in New Brunswick, Canada and this subject to inundation by spring freshets each year. S. foetidus is not nearly as abundant as it used to be in this area, with the draining of wetlands, swamps and fens, but, with some effort, it still may be observed in the wild, though I have not had the opportunity to see it for years. 

As a child I was struck by this plant that would burn its way through solid ice in late winter and early spring to form its "faerie hooseys", which were warm to the touch and usually inhabited by a bug or beetle or so and, very occasionally, a tiny green peeper when they were not to be found elsewhere. These little melt circles, sometimes numbering in the hundreds alongside a slough or pond, certainly did seem to be magical places in the eyes of myself and my young friends. But then, we had help ...

The Old Folks had it that these tenants "slept" the winter at the roots of the skunk cabbage and "woke up" when the plant thawed the ground around it and bloomed. Of course, the custodian faeries stoked little fires to keep the plant warm and husbanded the accompanying creatures on their wee farms. These particular faeries, in these special places, made the magic of "quiet hearing", fashioned and spun from the fabric of breezes caught in the doors of their houses - a lesson for children - If you stood very still, you could hear all the small, wild noises made by every living thing separately and distinctively from each other. Then you would know their names, which was very important: the wind carried names, yours as well, near and far. We had to be careful where we walked and try not to damage any of the plants or the faeries could bring us bad luck. And, we would not want the wind to speak ill of us.

This made certain sense to me then and I may still believe some of it today. I wonder: Are there any scientific observations on microclimates created by Symplocarpus that compare with the Old Folks' lore? Aside from the increasingly homeless faeries, of course.


Rand Nicholson
Zone 5b Eastern Maritime Canada

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