Symplocarpus foetidus (Skunk Cabbage)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Symplocarpus
Family:Araceae (Arum)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, shade; wet soil; swamps, seeps, along shores, wet woods
Bloom season:March - May
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: round

[photo of flowers] Flowers are in a fleshy oval cluster (spadix) 1 to 2 inches long. The spadix is yellowish to purplish. Individual flowers are about ¼ inch across, have 4 pale yellow stamens and 4 inconspicuous tepals (petals). The spadix is enclosed in a leaf-like bract (spathe) 3 to 6 inches long that is curved or twisted at the top and open on one side. The spathe is dark purplish brown mottled with yellowish green, and withers away after the flower has bloomed.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] A rosette of basal leaves emerges after the flower. Leaves eventually grow up to 2 feet long and 1 foot wide, on ridged leaf stems up to 1 foot long. Leaves are smooth, veiny, toothless, hairless and somewhat heart-shaped, with a blunt or pointed tip. The edges may be a little wavy.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] The spathe withers away, with the flower head developing into a round to oval compound fruit, 2 to 4 inches long, with a bumpy geometric pattern covering the surface. It is initially dark purplish like the spathe, or greenish, becoming black at maturity. Inside the fruit head are many seeds.

Notes:

Skunk Cabbage is usually the first plant to bloom in the spring, as early as February but more often March. It generates its own heat, melting the snow around it, and gives off a foul stench to attract flies for pollination. Without cover of snow the flowers may go unnoticed amid the brown leaf litter, at least until the leaves start emerging. It tends to form large colonies in favorable habitats. The leaves are a similar size and shape as the large basal leaves of burdock, but Skunk Cabbage leaves are smooth and a little shiny, where burdock are dull green and hairy to varying degrees.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Battle Creek Regional Park, St Paul. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Wabasha County. Photos courtesy Michael Lynch taken at Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Randy - Minnehaha Creek, near Miss. River
on: 2010-04-12 16:09:20

2 wks. ago there were many in bloom in the soggy areas very near the flowing creek.

Posted by: bobbie - Forestville State Park, Fillmore County
on: 2011-04-13 16:23:12

Hundreds of skunk cabbage in numerous seeps are emerging and blooming throughout the park. We met you folks last fall in the parking lot at Crosby-Manitou State Park. You have beautiful website.

Posted by: Nancy - forest lake mn.
on: 2011-07-15 11:01:13

you can only see in early or late winter. we found this plant in our peat bog,

Posted by: Bohaha - Crosby Farm park
on: 2012-03-31 13:29:26

Colonies in bloom near lake off Shepard Rd

Posted by: Leila - William O'Brien State Park
on: 2013-04-06 18:30:46

Colonies in bloom in seep/marshy area east of HWY 95 in Wm O'Brien State Park

Posted by: Ron - Nine Mile Creek, South of 106th St
on: 2014-05-05 20:31:29

On the east side of the creek south of the bridge that crosses the creek under 106th Street

Posted by: Jodi - Chaska
on: 2015-03-21 08:15:18

Thanks to Ron. I found the colony of these on 3/20/15 just where he said they would be south of 106th Street on Nine Mile Creek. They are just starting to bloom. One was in full bloom the others are just starting.

Posted by: John - Crosby Farm Park
on: 2015-04-13 13:59:13

Saw the Skunk Cabbage patch on the north side of the lake. There were several in varying stages of bloom.

Posted by: Lily - Theodore Wirth Park - Minneapolis
on: 2015-08-17 23:31:17

Can be found in the Eloise Butler wild flower garden in Theodore Wirth in the early spring!

Posted by: Peter G. - Ninemile Creek - Wildwood Park
on: 2016-03-27 20:47:37

Plentiful colonies located on the wet bottomlands on the north side of Nine Mile Creek in Wildwood Park. Park your car at the Lyndale Lot of the Minnesota River bottoms, go back under 35W, cross the creek and find the game trails at the bottom of the bluffs. In full bloom on 3/25/2016.

Posted by: Laurie - Harder Park in North Branch.
on: 2016-05-16 07:46:13

Found a huge collection of this plant in Harder Park while geocaching. Thankfully...it didn't smell yet! Also got to see a cute little green frog in one of the plants!

Posted by: Bruce D. A. - Carlos Avery-Sunrise Unit
on: 2017-04-10 08:50:11

Abundant and widespread population sending up leaves and flowers in an ash lowland forest between Ivy Trail and Sunrise River. Marsh marigold (although not as abundant) was also starting to flower.

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