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Skunk Cabbage

Scientific name: Symplocarpus foetidus

The skunk cabbage gets its name not from its shape, but from the foul odor that it emits when disturbed. In fact the “foetidus” Latin part of its name refers to its fetid aroma!

But why? The skunk plant needs to be pollinated in order for fruit and then seeds to be produced. Each plant evolves to develop survival strategies and the skunk cabbage has several fascinating ones. The scent of rotting flesh is what initially attracts flies and beetles to the flowers. The skunk cabbage is thermogenic, meaning that it can generate its own heat! This is what allows it to grow and bloom, even if there is snow on the ground. The temperature in the spathe can be 40 degrees warmer than the air temperature. On early spring days, insects will nestle in the warm embrace of this plant and begin their work as pollinators.


In early spring, thick fleshy bracts emerge from the soil. These are known as spathes. Hidden inside are tiny flowers. Later, its clumps of broad, oval, glossy green leaves grow in loose rosettes.


Flower structure consisting of a spadix (erect club-like spike containing numerous tiny yellow to green flowers) and a sheath-like white spathe (encases the lower part of the spadix and opens to form a hood extending over the top of the spadix). Flowers bloom in early spring. Spadix rises to 12 inches tall.

Blooming Season

While this plant flowers in April, it is unlikely that you will be able to see them as they are nestled inside the early growth of leaves, known as spathes.

Fun Facts

This is one of the first signs of spring!


The skunk cabbage is widely found in wet, swampy areas in the spring.

Life Cycle

The first spathes (early growth) appear in late winter and early spring. They will appear purple, rather than green. Over the course of the summer, the foliage will die back, but by then the seeds will have dispersed. These will germinate and become the next season’s plants.

Similar Species

It is in the same family (Araceae) as the playfully named Jack-in-the-Pulpit. They share the same somewhat unique flower structure.

Ecosystem Connections

Its foul smell also prevents it from being eaten by deer.

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