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Vick, Albert F. W.
Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex W.P.C. Barton
Skunk cabbage, Skunk-cabbage
Synonym(s): Spathyema foetida
USDA Symbol: syfo
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
Very early in spring, the greenish-yellow spadix of this plant appears, enclosed by a reddish-brown spathe that is open at one side. As the flowers on the spadix wilt, green leaves unfold. These leaves become quite large with conspicuous venation giving a quilted appearance. The plant becomes 1-3 ft. tall. Flower appears before leaves. Through a chemical process, flower can heat itself to about 15 degrees Celcius. This allows it to burn its way through snow cover. Sometimes called first flower of spring. Emerging from moist earth in early spring, a large brownish-purple and green, mottled, shell-like spathe enclosing a knob-like spadix covered with tiny flowers. By late spring a tight roll of fresh green leaves beside the spathe unfolds to form huge, dark green, cabbagy leaves that may carpet an area.
This distinctive plant of marshy woods sprouts so early in spring that the heat of cellular respiration resulting from its rapid growth actually melts snow or ice around it. Its strong fetid odor, especially when the plant is bruised, resembles decaying flesh and lures insects that pollinate it.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Herb Leaf:
Green Fruit: Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar , Apr
, WV Canada: NB
, QC Native Distribution:
N.S. to GA,
w. to MN
& IA Native Habitat:
Swamps & muddy ground
Growing ConditionsWater Use: High
Light Requirement: Shade
Soil Moisture: Wet
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Damp, humus-rich soil.
Conditions Comments: Plant the skunk cabbage where you want it to stay, since a full-grown plant will have a bushel of soil adhering to tis roots and is next to impossible to move. The bruised leaves have a foul odor which gives the skunk cabbage its name. Otherwise the plant has no odor.
BenefitUse Food: EDIBLE PARTS: Young, uncurled leaves and roots. Collect the bright green, unfurled leaves in the very early spring.
FOOD PREPARATION: Soak young shoots and roots in warm water to remove dirt and debris. Do not use dish detergent or any type of sanitizer. Carefully handle leaves after collecting. Bruised leaves will give off an unpleasant smell. The smell disappears after cooking. Cook for 20 minutes, change the water at least twice and replace with fresh, boiling salted water. Serve like greens. Roots are very bitter and burning in their raw state. Peel, cut into small pieces, roast in an oven for at least one hour and grind in a flour or coffee grinder until quite fine. Add to bread dough or muffin batter. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: All parts except uncurled leaves and roots. Toxic only if eaten in large quantities. Symptoms include burning and swelling of lips, tongue, and throat; nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Toxic Principle: Calcium oxalate crystals and possibly others.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Sow seeds upon collection in a peaty soil kept constantly moist. Seedlings require considerable time to mature. To increase by division, dig around the dormant plant and remove it with as much of the deep-penetrating, offensive-smelling rhizome
as possi Seed Collection:
Skunk cabbage requires the whole of the growing season to mature its seeds. The fruiting spadix darkens and become spongy as it develops. In
early fall, when the seeds are ripe, the spadix is often found on the ground at the base of the leaves. Remove seeds from spadix. Seeds can not be stored. Seed Treatment:
Not Available Commercially Avail:
National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
From the National Suppliers Directory
According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:
American Native Nursery
- Quakertown, PA
From the National Organizations Directory
According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is either on display or available from the following:
Mt. Cuba Center
- Hockessin, DE
Record Last Modified: 2012-10-03
Research By: TWC Staff