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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex W.P.C. Barton

Araceae (Arum Family)

Common Name:

skunk cabbage


Skunk cabbage grows in low woods and shrub swamps with rich organic soils that are often flooded in spring and saturated to the surface most of the year.

It's the first native plant to bloom, starting in February when the heat from cellular respiration melts nearby ice and snow.  The leaves emerge after flowering as a compact cigar-shape roll (top). Once unfolded, leaves grow up to 1 foot wide and 2 feet tall. It's perennial, usually growing in colonies from a thick rhizome. Both the flower and the leaves have a skunk-like odor when crushed.

Flowers are on an ovoid spadix hidden in a green or purple hooded spathe (top). The spathe helps hold in the flowers' heat to vaporize the scent that attracts pollinating insects and to keep them active. The seeds form inside the spadix.

  • Origin of the name: Symplocarpus, L., simplex, one, together; Gr. karpos, fruit -- refers to the seeds staying together embedded in the spadix; foetidus, L., foetere, to stink
  • Range:  Eastern N. America, from southeast Canada west to Iowa; E. Asia
  • WI Range:  Statewide
  • Common associates:  Marsh marigold, black ash
  • Wetland Indicator Status: OBL
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 8 (S&W), C = 6 (MI)
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