Photo of Drs. Rachel Schultz and Chris Martine discuss skunk cabbage in front of the video camera.

Webisode, Professor Show ‘Coolness’ of Smelly Plant

By Cara Lee
June 2013

SUNY Plattsburgh’s Dr. Rachel Schultz has joined forces with a former faculty member in a video about a wetlands plant with a distinct odor: skunk cabbage.

The assistant professor of environmental science came together with Dr. Chris Martine, now the David Burpee chair in plant genetics and research at Bucknell University, in “Undead Zombie Flowers of Skunk Cabbage: Plants Are Cool, Too!,” the third in a series created by Martine.

In it, Schultz discusses the plant with a smell that Martine calls “a complex bouquet reminiscent of fresh garlic mixed with decomposing zombie flesh.”

Plant Melts Snow

Filmed in the Adirondack Park and in SUNY Plattsburgh’s Rugar Woods, Schultz looks beyond that smell to the plant’s ability to change temperature and melt snow. It uses an accelerated respiration rate to generate heat and can get as warm as 70 degrees, even when the weather is freezing.

Fortune also played a role in the project, according to Schultz.

“The Friday before the filming, GIS support specialist Eileen Allen had just gotten a thermal imager, which creates temperature maps using an infrared camera,” Schultz said. “Eric Leibensperger (assistant professor of environmental science) had the brilliant idea to use the camera.”

Using the imager, Schultz was able to pinpoint the plant’s hot spots for the camera.

Although the video was released in April, Schultz has already used it in class as an introduction to a plant ecology lab on the skunk cabbage population by the Saranac River.

“The students loved seeing the video and then going out to investigate the skunk cabbages,” she said.

Wonder and Opportunities

The webisode also found a fan in SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling.

"Who wouldn't want to be a botanist after seeing this video?” he said. “You get to tramp around in the woods, study really weird plants — and make up cool songs about them," he added, making a special reference to the theme song, created and sung by Martine.

Schultz hopes the video inspires others to search for and become aware of plant life.

“These plants are all over, whether in urban, suburban or remote areas,” she said. “We really can find wonder and these learning opportunities right where we are.”

 Video Extra: Undead Zombie Flowers of Skunk Cabbage.



Photo of Cara LeeCara Lee received her bachelor of science in public relations with a minor in journalism this May. Prior to that, she interned for both the Office of Marketing and Communication and the Office of Admissions. She also served as vice president of SUNY Plattsburgh's Public Relations Student Society of America chapter; director of creative services for the college's student-run public relations firm, Cardinal PR; and marketing director for the  Student Association.



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