Plants of New Jersey # 2 Eastern Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Eastern Skunk Cabbage spadix (right) with emerging leaf (left)

Welcome! Today we will discuss the lowly Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), a plant that many may view in disgust due to its odor. That said, no other native plant can boast that it is the first of our native perennial spring wildflowers to bloom every year! You can find Skunk Cabbage in bloom as early as February though personally I have even seen it in bloom in December one year.

Skunk Cabbage is an obligate plant (which means it is almost always found in wetlands). So if you have stumbled across this plant you are most likely in a wetland (though I’m sure you will be aware of that fact long before you spot this plant 🙂 )!

Eastern Skunk Cabbage

Eastern Skunk Cabbage

The leaves, which appear as the flower is withering, can be as big as two feet or even bigger. While the leaves may have a resemblance to cabbage, it is misleading. Skunk Cabbage is not actually related to any cabbage species. Some people have even compared the leaves to Hosta Plants.

Skunk cabbage earns the ‘skunk’ in its name because it releases a harmless but nasty smell if one of its leaves get torn or damaged. The smell helps attract flies who cross-pollinate the plant by laying eggs in the spadix.

Eastern Skunk Cabbage 1

Eastern Skunk Cabbage

A cool fact about Skunk Cabbage is that it uses energy stored in its roots to generate heat! This plant can actually help to melt snow around it! Black bears have been known to eat the young green leaves in early spring along with different species of birds. That said, overall, Skunk Cabbage is a minor wildlife food plant and is toxic for human consumption.

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