Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Nutt. - Skunk Cabbage


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Symplocarpus foetidus - (image 1 of 6)



Family: Araceae


Calcareous fens and springy areas. Shaded seepage slopes. Wet-mesic swamps.


In fens with Angelica atropurpurea, Aster puniceus firmus, Caltha palustris, Cardamine bulbosa, Carex hystericina, Cirsium muticum, Equisetum arvense, Eupatorium maculatum, Impatiens capensis, Oxypolis rigidior, Pedicularis lanceolata, Solidago patula.


Quebec and Nova Scotia south to NC, west to MN and IA. Also occurs in eastern Asia.


Herbaceous perennial from a thick rhizome. Leaves basal, short petioled, ovate, cordate, to 2' high and 1' wide, veined. Flowers perfect, tiny; stamens 4; flowers covering a knob-like spadix and enclosed by a shell-like spathe; spathe ovoid with incurved summit, 3-6" long, green and purple or reddish, mottled, partially underground with a very short peduncle. Fruit globose, 3-4" thick; seeds 0.4" thick and embedded in the spongy spadix.


Flowers mid February to early May

Wetland indicator: Obligate

When bruised, the leaves emit a fetid skunk-like odor. The flowers emit heat via cellular respiration that melts the snow or ice around it. All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate crystals, which produce an intense burning sensation when eaten. Only thorough drying destroys this property. The thoroughly dried leaves can be used in soups and stews and the dried root can be ground into flour.


Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Second Ed.
The New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, NY


Niering, W. A. 1979. The Audubon society field guide to North American wildflowers: eastern region.
Knopf/Random House, New York.


Peterson, L. A. 1977. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America
Houghton Mifflin Company. New York, NY


Swink, F. and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region.
Indiana Academy of Science. The Morton Arboretum. Lisle, Illinois.




 Michael Hough 2005