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Photo by: Gary Fewless

Location: Brown Co., WI

Date taken: February 2000

Camera: Olympus CL 2500L digital camera

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

(Click on image to enlarge to 78K)


The first flower of the season, Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), is blooming in the arboretum. The purplish structure with light flecks is called the spathe. Within it is a fleshy central axis with many small flowers which can be seen in the photo above. The leaves will emerge from the soil later and if they are broken they produce an odor similar to that of a skunk. This is the only species in our area (and one of very few anywhere) that can actually generate significant heat -- sometimes melting the snow around the flower. Skunk cabbages that grow near freshwater springs are the earliest because the soil doesn't freeze there. If they are not near a spring the plants may not flower for another month or more. Skunk cabbage flowers produce an odor that is similar to rotting meat, which attracts insects that are looking for carrion. The insects become unwitting pollinators of skunk cabbage when they come to investigate the odor.

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Last updated on April 15, 2014