Skunk Cabbage

Symplocarpus foetidus

Poisonous Plants Homepage of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

Skunk Cabbage is a large-leafed plant that grows in wet areas, especially near streams, ponds, marshes, and wet woods. It is easy to recognize, with its huge leaves rising directly from the ground.

Skunk Cabbage is one of the first plants to bloom in the Spring, and can bloom anywhere from February to May. The first part of the plant to appear is the spathe. The spathe is a brownish-purple, shell-like pod with green splotches. It may resemble something from a science-fiction movie.

As the spathe gets bigger, it will reveal another part inside, called a spadix. The spadix is a litle knob covered with small yellow flowers.

Brad Slaughter

USDA, NRCS, 1995 - Midwestern Wetland Plants

USDA, NRCS, 1995 - Midwestern Wetland Plants

Scott A. Milburn, Wisconsin State Herbarium

By late Spring, the Skunk Cabbage will send up a tightly rolled leaf. When the leaf unfurls, it may be one to two feet long and a foot wide.

When leaves are bruised or crushed, the plant releases a strong odor which smells like rotten meat. This smell attracts insects.

Insects arrive and find the flowers of the Skunk Cabbage. They then help pollinate the plant by taking pollen from one cabbage to another. Many fly species, as well as some butterflies, bees, and beetles pollinate Skunk Cabbage.

Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden

Matthew C. Perry

In the fall, Skunk Cabbage leaves fall over and begin to rot. Many animals, including slugs, millipedes, and isopods eat the old leaves, but Skunk Cabbage leaves are poisonous to mammals (including us).

The large fallen leaves also provide good shelter for small animals. In late Winter and early Spring, the new flowers give off heat. This heat is strong enough to melt snow around the plant. Flies and other insects seek their warmth.

University of Deleware Department of Biological Sciences

In late Spring, the Common Yellowthroat will sometimes build its nest in the hollow of large Skunk Cabbage leaves.

Wood Ducks and Northern Bobwhites eat Skunk Cabbage seeds.

Some plants that often grow alongside of Skunk Cabbage include sedges, jewelweeds, and Marsh Marigold.

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source

Animals Using as Shelter

Associations With Other Plants

OTHER

Wood Duck

Isopod

Tussock Sedge

Blue Bottle Fly Po

Northern Bobwhite

Earthworm

Spotted Jewelweed

Honey Bee Po

Leopard Slug

North American Millipede

North American Millipede

Leopard Slug

Isopod

Eastern Forest Snail

Earthworm

Garden Centipede

Blue Bottle Fly

Red-backed Salamander

Honey Bee

Five-lined Skink

Eastern Forest Snail

Common Yellowthroat

Blue Bottle Fly

Eastern Forest Snail

Eastern Hercules Beetle

Common Whitetail

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

Predatory Nematode

Fragile Forktail

Eastern Worm Snake

Relationship to Humans:

Skunk Cabbage is poisonous to people, but are interesting plants and give us an early sign of Spring.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Plant
DIVISION
Magnoliophyta
CLASS
Liliopsida
ORDER
Arales
FAMILY
Araceae
GENUS
Symplocarpus
SPECIES
Symplocarpus foetidus

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