HONEY BEES

AND SKUNK CABBAGE

During early spring, before crops are sown and gardens planted, honey bees at Stone Barns turn to woodland habitats for survival.  Honey bees can travel as far as four miles, searching for early-blooming nectar and pollen sources.  Among the first plants they find is skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage belongs to a small group of extraordinary and fascinating plants capable of thermogenesis –- the ability to generate heat.  In late winter, skunk cabbages melt snow and thaw soil gathered around their roots. As a result, they are able to emerge and flower far earlier than most other spring plants.

Skunk cabbage’s strange flowers are spherical yellow blossoms concealed in purple hoods.  They emanate a terrible odor often likened to the smell of carrion.     This smell attracts pollinating flies, which are able to tolerate cold better than most bees.  Skunk cabbage, however, has the capacity to change its smell to the scent of apples or turnips in order to lure bees that are able to brave cold weather -- such as honey bees.

Once pollinated, skunk cabbage flowers produce seeds that fall into the muck, where they are eaten by small birds and ducks.  By mid-spring, skunk cabbages carpet the edges of brooks and marshy areas in rich green, creating a micro-ecosystem in which an astonishingly wide variety of animals flourish.  Salamanders, snapping turtles, garter snakes,  birds and insects seek refuge amid skunk cabbage leaves. 

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(c) Copyright 2016 Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman.  All rights reserved.