Bogs and Acidic Peatlands of Southern New England by Marsha C. Salett
Taxonomy
Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Nutt.
ARACEAE (Arum Family)
EtymologySymplocarpus means combined fruit, from the Greek: symploke = combination, connection + karpos = fruit, because the ovaries of skunk cabbage grow together to form one fruit; foetidus is Latin for foul-smelling.
Synonyms (Common Name)Swamp Cabbage, Skunkweed, Foetid Hellebore
DescriptionA loosely colonial herb, skunk cabbage is probably the first plant to flower in New England. As early as February, a mottled, brownish-purple to green, hooded sheath containing a knob-shaped cluster of yellow-brown flowers pokes out of the ground or even snow. The showy, large leaves emerge in spring after the flowers go to seed. Skunk cabbage gets its name from the unpleasant odor of its flowers and of the leaves when crushed.
Wetland indicator statusOBL
Plant Height1-2.5 feet
LeavesLarge and broad, 1 - 2 1/2' tall; ovate with heart-shaped base, prominently veined; in a basal cluster arising from a stout, vertical rhizome; malodorous.
Flower/InflorescenceVery small, brownish-yellow, clustered on a fleshy, knob-shaped spike (spadix) that barely rises from the ground; spadix almost entirely hidden by a hooded sheath (spathe), mottled brownish-purple to green, 2-6" long; malodorous; respiration from budding and flowering spadix produces heat, often melting snow around it.
Flowering PeriodFebruary-April
FruitRound, fruiting head of withered spadix, 3 -- 5 1/2" thick; green to black, roughened, pulpy mass; seeds enclosed beneath the surface, released as spadix decomposes; stalk lies flat at maturity.
HabitatSwamps, wet woods, stream margins.
RangeQuebec and Nova Scotia to Minnesota, south to North Carolina and Iowa.
(c) 1998-2006 Marsha C. Salett