Sunday, February 5, 2012
Nature as Muse—Musings on Skunk Cabbage
As I came to a stop on the bridge over Blockston Branch, a place I have stopped many times before, I knew what I should be seeing. I also knew I wouldn't see it until my eyes were ready to see it. But let me walk us back to the beginning.
I came to the Arboretum that morning to be a member of the Adkins Arboretum Nature as Muse group. I had been a part of a similar group several years ago at the Arboretum and have pages upon pages of journals, treasured arts and crafts pieces (beautiful only to me, I am sure), and many memories of the explorations and musings we had created. I was looking forward to the new group, but steeling myself not to expect what had been. I was delighted to find a welcome, and excitement, that was engaging and new, yet comfortable and known.
...well, mainly you will say, ‘what IS that?’ Because, really, it looks quite alien. Well ‘that’ is the bloom of a skunk cabbage. Poking its way up through leaf litter, detritus from floods, and, even in colder winters than we have had this year, melting the ice and snow around it. The multicolored gnome-like hood is known as a spathe and protects the actual bloom, or spadix, tucked inside. The spathe is open only with a narrow slot that admits access to its intended audiences, the winter hardy gnats, flies, and some bees.
Another intriguing trait of the skunk cabbage is how well it clings and anchors itself to the ground with roots that reach down and out and branch at the end to extend even more rootlets, like fingers digging into the soil. It has to be able to withstand the floods after a rain swells the creek bed, and the turkeys that forage on their way through to the next field (deer are as sensitive to the skunk scent and chemistry of the leaves as we are and leave it be).
The group meets again March 7 (and the first Wednesday of most months) to experience a bit of nature and let it act as muse—you are most welcome to muse along with us!
by Michelle Dolan Lawrence
Arboretum docent and Maryland Master Naturalist