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Symplocarpus foetidus

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Plant types and subtypes: Perennials, Ephemerals

Light Requirements: part-sun, part-shade

Water Use: medium, high

Soil Moisture: moist, wet

Soil Description: acid, average, clay, sand

Height: 1'-2'

Bloom Time: February, March, April

Bloom Color: crimson, purple, green, brown

Leaf Color: green

Hardiness Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7

Additional Tags: bog plant, colonizing, deer resistant, edible, emergent, ephemeral, fragrant flowers, fragrant plant, fragrant root, medicinal, naturalizing, ornamental foliage, poisonous, pond margin plant, shade garden plant, swamp plant, water garden plant, wetland plant

Symplocarpus foetidus (skunk cabbage)
  • Symplocarpus foetidus (skunk cabbage)
  • Symplocarpus foetidus (skunk cabbage)
  • Symplocarpus foetidus (skunk cabbage)
  • Symplocarpus foetidus (skunk cabbage)

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Description

Symplocarpus foetidus

Also known as:

skunk cabbage

,

Scientific Synonyms:

Spathyema foetida

Description

Symplocarpus foetidus is a very unique and strange plant. The flowers emerge as early as February, even piercing through snow. They resemble purplish, mottled, Venetian glass sculptures...but their beauty hides a dirty little secret, or should I say, a stinky little secret! Flowers emit a foul odor reminiscent of carrion, and so do the leaves if bruised or crushed. Along with the shape of the leaves, skunk cabbage is a well deserved common name. foliage dies back by mid summer.

Cultivation

Symplocarpus foetidus is native to bogs, and swamp margins. It thrives in heavy, mucky soils, and can withstand regular inundation. It is a collector’s specimen, perfect for a low lying, poorly drained area, with filtered light. The roots have a particular trait that makes them retract after the growing season, effectively pulling the plant under ground. Mature plants are therefore very difficult to transplant. Blooms February, to April in the northernmost part of its range. Zones 4-7

Propagation

It may be propagated by division when dormant, but this requires deep digging, and separating the roots which happen to be as malodorous as the rest of the plant. Is slow to propagate from seed. These must be collected as soon as they ripen in early fall, and planted immediately. Dried seeds lose all viability.

Additional Notes

As if this plant weren't bizarre enough, it is both edible and poisonous. Young leaves can be prepared as cooked greens, after extensive preparation to remove their foul odor. Roots can be roasted, dried, and ground into flour. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested raw and in large quantities. Skunk cabbage is also among a small group of plants exhibiting thermogenesis: the ability to generate temperatures of 15-35°C above air temperature. This allows it to literally melt its way through the snow in late winter. It is also believed that this ability helps it disperse its carrion-like odor, thereby attracting scavenger flies to serve as pollinators.

Native Range & Classification

Recorded County Distribution: USDA data

Native Range:
CT, DC, DE, IA, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV

USDA Endangered Status:

  • Endangered: TN

Classification

Kingdom Plantae Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta Flowering plants
Class Liliopsida Monocotyledons
Subclass Arecidae
Order Arales
Family Araceae Arum family
Genus Symplocarpus skunk cabbage
Species Symplocarpus foetidus skunk cabbage