SKUNK CABBAGE, Symplocarpus foetidus


Photos by Beth E. Schroeder and Sue J. Avery

Skunk Cabbage emerges in swampy areas. This plant generates enough heat to melt snow and ice around it. Look for its unusual flowers, which are maroon-striped, leaf-like spathes surrounding a spadix or club. The spadix is the reproductive part of the flower and, if you don’t mind getting your feet wet, you can smell the skunk-like odor emanating from it. The first flies and gnats of the season are attracted to this smell and pollinate the plant. The maroon color of the spathes resembles that of carrion and further attracts insects such as carrion beetles. Bees are also attracted to the warmth of the flower in the early spring, and will visit the flower to warm up and at the same time pollinate the plant. Spiders often weave their webs across the spathe’s entrance to trap unsuspecting flies. Common yellow-throat warblers have been known to build nests in the hollow left by the spathe, using the foul odor of the plant as a decoy against predators. Later in the season large leaves surround the flower and by late summer a small, inconspicuous, egg-shaped fruit forms.

More information

US Department of Agriculture

National Wildlife Federation