Backyard Biology

Nature stories from my backyard and beyond

Nature Activities

Skunk Cabbage Temperature

Friday, April 8, 2011

One of the most amazing plants in my back yard is the skunk cabbage. Not only does it have the distinctive odor of a skunk, it is actually a warm-blooded plant - able to generate its own heat during its early flowering season. The heat it generates helps it to break through the ice and snow in late February. Then, when the plant flowers, it helps carry the scent out of the spathe - the “hood” that surrounds the flower - and into the surrounding air where it will attract the flies and other insects that will pollinate it.

Studies done by R.M. Knudson in the 1970’s shows that the skunk cabbage can raise its temperature an average of 20 degrees above the surrounding air for a period of a few weeks. So I thought I would recreate the experiment myself - taking the temperature of the air inside the flower and outside the flower. I tested one plant from Feb. 26, 2010 to March 8, 2010. While my results weren’t as dramatic as those of Knudson, I did find a rise in temperature. This is a simple experiment that you can do in any wetland that contains skunk cabbage.

Materials:

  • skunk cabbage plant
  • two thermometers
  • recording sheet

Instructions

  1. Find a skunk cabbage plant that has an open spathe (flower hood).

  2. Place one thermometer inside the spathe and the other in the air just outside the plant.skunk cabbage

    (I use a set of wireless indoor/outdoor thermometers. My two thermometers are placed in a wooden housing with their sensors extending out to my skunk cabbage - one inside the spathe and the other near the plant. These are left in place during the experiment. they send the temperature to a third thermometer - a wireless sensor that reads the temperature of the other two)

  3. Read the temperature of the thermometers at least once a day during the time the plant is in flower.

  4. Graph your results.

temperature chart