In case you hadn’t noticed it’s been a groundbreaking winter season with record low temperatures and record high snowfalls. But leave it to the natural springs to break the ground in their own way and provide us with our first hint of spring!

Last Saturday (February 22), Nichols Arboretum caretakers discovered the first signs of spring life down by the Huron River banks near a natural spring – skunk cabbage! Skunk cabbage, or Symplocarpus foetidus, is one of the first plants to emerge in spring. It’s a thermogenic plant, which means it is able to generate heat at the cellular level, specifically in the mitochondria cells. This process melts the frozen ground around the plant, allowing growth to occur. Characteristics of the plant include an early spring bloom of mottled purple flowers at 4-6 inches tall that produce a pungent but harmless odor – the root of this plant’s common name.  Leaves emerge slightly later than the bloom and can reach 21.5″ long by 16″ wide. Get your hiking boots ready, because spring is right around the corner!

Skunk cabbage pushing up through the snow in Nichols Arboretum

Guest post by Nichols Arboretum caretaker Jacob Hamilton, part of a series of posts written by our student workers.