Following yesterday’s post about local amphibian life, here are two different types of plants you might find growing nearby. These probably aren’t plants you will find in a landscaped yard, but you can often find them just a few steps into the closest forest. I must admit I partly chose the plants in this post because they each hold a special place in my heart from interactions with them during my childhood. I also love these plants because they have unique adaptations that help them thrive in the natural world. First we have the mayapple:
The mayapple (also called the hogapple and wild mandrake) grows in colonies in wooded areas. These plants are near and dear to me because I spent a lot of time as a child pretending they were umbrellas that I could hide under. In the above picture you can see the flower bud in the middle of the two stems. One thing that is important to note here, though, is that all parts of this plant except for the fruit are toxic! This keeps the plants from being eaten except for when it needs to disperse its seeds. This is why only the fruit isn’t toxic, so animals (most commonly box turtles) can eat the fruit and carry the seeds to new places.
Our next plant for the day is the skunk cabbage:
As you may have guessed, this plant gets its name from the pungent odor it produces when its leaves are torn. When I was a kid I used to occasionally tear the leaves on purpose–I had this idea that I would be able to find my way back through the woods by following the smell. The smell actually attracts pollinating insects, and keeps animals from being very interested in eating it. Skunk cabbage is usually found in marshy areas and has some remarkable characteristics, including the ability to heat up the surrounding ground and actually melt through ice.
The skunk cabbage and mayapple are both plants you can find throughout Pennsylvania, but they prove that even ‘common’ plants have exciting adaptations! The toxicity of the mayapple and foul odor of the skunk cabbage are both clever modifications that keep predators at bay. If the skunk cabbage is powerful enough to melt ice, imagine what else the plants in your area might be capable of!