Vascular Plants of Wisconsin

Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex W.P.C.Barton
skunk cabbage
Family: Araceae

native: yes
type: herbaceous perennial

plants inflorescences longitudinal section of an inflorescence
growing plants may melt the surrounding snow

Symplocarpus foetidus is the earliest plant species to flower in Wisconsin. It tends to favor deep, wet, often mucky soils. Plants that grow in springy areas where the soil does not freeze or freezes only lightly may flower in February. Plants in more exposed sites may not flower until 3 weeks or more after the earlliest plants.

The purplish structure with light flecks is called the spathe. Within it is the spadix, a fleshy central axis with many small flowers which can be seen in the photo above. The inflorescence appears first and the leaves emerge from the soil later. If they are broken they produce an odor similar to that of a skunk. 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. 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.


known distribution based on vouchers


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