|The eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
generates enough heat to melt its way through snow
in early spring. Photo by Sakaori, from
But how and why do these plants do this? Surprisingly, this ability evolved before the ancestors of these tropical plants moved northward. Many tropical aroids living in 365/24/7 jungle steam baths also generate heat. They do it also to attract pollinators, and that is the original reason. The ability to melt snow is a bonus. Heat generation in plants is similar to that in animals, by the burning of carbohydrate or sometimes lipid reserves.
|Philodendron bipinnatifidum (formerly
P. selloum) generates heat to attract
pollinating beetles. Photo by
Tekwani, Wikimedia Commons