March 21, 2013

Skunk Cabbage - Symplocarpus foetidus

To celebrate the first days of spring I thought it would be good to highlight one of the earliest spring bloomers, skunk cabbage! Here are 10 fun facts about this unique, native species:

1 Eastern skunk cabbage belongs to Araceae, the same plant family as calla lilies, flamingo flowers, and titan arums!

2 Where might you find this odd little plant? If you live in Illinois, it’s mostly distributed in the northeastern corner of the state, but can be found in some central-Illinois counties. Generally it grows in wet areas like swamps, seeps, deciduous woodlands, wet thickets, fens, and bogs.

3 To many, skunk cabbage resembles a little garden gnome! In technical terms, its "hood" is called a spathe, while the internal flower cluster is called a spadix.

4 Skunk cabbage flowers are perfect (have male and female parts,) but lack petals. They do, however, have flesh colored sepals. Each flower goes through a female phase where you can see its stigma, followed by a male phase where the bright yellow pollen is apparent.

5 True to its name, skunk cabbage does smell! Its flowers give off an odor like rotten meat to trick its main pollinators, flies, into visiting. However, other pollinators like bees can also be seen visiting skunk cabbage flowers and gathering their pollen. Watch this video to see skunk cabbage pollination in action!

6 In addition to its rotten scent, skunk cabbage attracts pollinators due to its warmth (its flower heads generate heat during respiration as they use oxygen to break down starch.) In some cases, the air inside the spathe can be up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding air temperature!

7 This neat plant blooms in late winter or early spring when there is often still snow on the ground. Due to the heat its flowers produce, skunk cabbage is actually able to melt the snow immediately around itself!

8 Each successfully pollinated flower in a skunk cabbage spadix produces a berry fruit. The berries are clustered very close together, hence the plant’s genus name, Symplocarpus, which comes from the Greek symploke meaning “a connection” and karpos meaning “fruit.” Don’t ever eat skunk cabbage berries though; they’re poisonous!

9 After blooming is complete, the leaves of skunk cabbage unroll and grow, often reaching heights of over 20 inches. The leaves are seldom eaten by herbivores because they contain calcium oxalate crystals; these crystals can cause death or permanent kidney and liver damage if eaten! However, some brave, very hungry herbivores like snapping turtles and black bears may eat the leaves after hibernating.

10 Want to get skunk cabbage seeds to germinate? Then make sure to keep them wet! Also, be sure to plant skunk cabbage in a partly sunny location where the soil is mucky and constantly wet! 

March 18, 2013

Clean Boats Crew Leaders Needed for 2013 Boating Season

The Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute, and the University of Illinois are hiring Clean Boats Crew site leaders again this year in time for the 2013 summer boating season.

Clean Boats Crew site leaders will work in Lake and Cook Counties, IL, and Lake and Porter Counties, IN, educating the public about aquatic invasive species and how these species are unintentionally spread. Site Leaders will manage a team of volunteers and be supervised by a program coordinator.

These positions are an excellent opportunity to gain experience while being directly involved in education and outreach to an audience that will be crucial in helping prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The link above associated with the counties will take you to the specific position information for either Illinois or Indiana.  Applications are being accepted now until March 22.

Information about volunteer opportunities at these locations throughout the summer will be posted later this spring.

Find out more about the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers Campaign and the Clean Boats Crew at our CBC page

Indianapolis Boat, Sport, and Travel Show

Indianapolis, IN
February 15-17, 2013

IISG AIS Outreach Team educates hundreds at the Indianapolis Boat, Sport, and Travel Show
Zebra Mussels

Danielle Hilbrich from the IISG aquatic invasive species (AIS) outreach team attended the Indianapolis Boat, Sport, and Travel Show at the Indiana State Fair Grounds in Indianapolis, IN on February 15-17.  Danielle teamed up with the Indiana DNR to host a booth and educate recreational water users on the dangers of AIS. Danielle talked with 850 people about AIS, and handed out hundreds of Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! stickers and brochures. Many show attendees were very aware of problems that the invasive species like Zebra Mussel, Eurasian Watermilfoil, and Hydrilla can cause on aquatic ecosystems, and regularly boat on lakes infested with these invaders.  Although one young show attendee called zebra mussel shells her “lake treasures,” we know that they are unwanted invaders!

Attendees were educated about the proper techniques to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.  AIS spread can be slowed by following just a few simple steps: INSPECT and REMOVE any aquatic plants or animals from boats and recreational equipment, DRAIN all water from equipment, DISPOSE of unwanted live bait or fish into the trash, DRY equipment thoroughly, and NEVER release organisms from one waterbody to another.  One show-goer was surprised to find out that dumping bait in the trash was a way to prevent the spread invasive species. Thankfully, Danielle was there to educate this angler!  
For more information on aquatic invasive species or the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!™ campaign please visit IISG’s Stop Aquatic Hitchhiker’s page at or

The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant AIS outreach team is part of the Illinois Natural History Survey Lake Michigan Biological Station, and is housed at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, IL.