Symplocarpus foetidus (Skunk Cabbage)
|Also known as:
|part shade, shade; wet soil; swamps, seeps, along shores, wet woods
|March - May
|1 to 3 feet
|Wetland Indicator Status:
|GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):
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Flowers are in a fleshy oval cluster (spadix) 1 to 2 inches long. The spadix is yellowish to purplish. Individual flowers are about ¼ inch across, have 4 pale yellow stamens and 4 inconspicuous tepals (petals). The spadix is enclosed in a leaf-like bract (spathe) 3 to 6 inches long that is curved or twisted at the top and open on one side. The spathe is dark purplish brown mottled with yellowish green, and withers away after the flower has bloomed.
A rosette of basal leaves emerges after the flower. Leaves eventually grow up to 2 feet long and 1 foot wide, on ridged leaf stems up to 1 foot long. Leaves are smooth, veiny, toothless, hairless and somewhat heart-shaped, with a blunt or pointed tip. The edges may be a little wavy.
The spathe withers away, with the flower head developing into a round to oval compound fruit, 2 to 4 inches long, with a bumpy geometric pattern covering the surface. It is initially dark purplish like the spathe, or greenish, becoming black at maturity. Inside the fruit head are many seeds.
Notes:Skunk Cabbage is usually the first plant to bloom in the spring, as early as February but more often March. It generates its own heat, melting the snow around it, and gives off a foul stench to attract flies for pollination. Without cover of snow the flowers may go unnoticed amid the brown leaf litter, at least until the leaves start emerging. It tends to form large colonies in favorable habitats. The leaves are a similar size and shape as the large basal leaves of burdock, but Skunk Cabbage leaves are smooth and a little shiny, where burdock are dull green and hairy to varying degrees.
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- a colony of plants in bloom
- a colony of mature leaves
- more flowers, about 4 inches tall
- a colony of plants
- early spring bloom, melting the snow
Photos by K. Chayka taken at Battle Creek Regional Park, St Paul. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Wabasha County. Photos by Michael Lynch taken at Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?