Ontario Wildflowers website

Skunk Cabbage
Symplocarpus foetidus

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) Family: Arum Family (Araceae)

Distinctive features: Strong-smelling. Grows in wet areas. Huge green leaves. Unusual flowers. Grows up through snow.

Flowers: Spring, Winter;  Green/Brown;  Irregular flowers;  Unusual - see photos. Purple-brown.Very early spring, usually the first plant up; grows up through the snow.

Leaves: Large, close to the ground. Green.

Height: Low.

Fruit/Seeds: Dark.

Habitat: Wet Areas;  Wet areas, near water. Swamps and marshes.

Lifespan: Perennial.  Some sources state that these plants can live for 100's of years!

Books: Newcomb's Wildflower Guide: 16    Peterson's Field Guide to Wildflowers: 368, 388    ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario: 63   

Native/Non-native: Native

Status: Common.

Origin and Meaning of Names:
 Scientific Name: foetidus: bad-smelling


See Also:
  •   The Truth About Skunk Cabbage, from The Monday Garden, by Sue Sweeney


Photographs: 391 photographs available, of which 22 are featured on this page. SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOGRAPHS.

Range Map is at the bottom of the page

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowers

Skunk Cabbage plants literally melt the snow away from around them. Books state that they can maintain a temperature of 70F in their immediate vicinity!

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

Note the circle of melted snow around this plant. In southern Ontario these plants usually bloom around the last week of March.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

And they can withstand being re-frozen into the ice, as we see here.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

This is the Skunk Cabbage flower. They are very unusual flowers, and come in a variety of colours.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

This one is a bit lighter. Skunk Cabbage usually grows in very wet areas. However, this one is in a bit of a drier place.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

And a darker coloured flower. This outer shell is referred to as a "spathe".

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

A more squat shape.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

Inside the flower body is what's called the "spadix". This is where the actual individual flowers are located, with pollen.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

Another view.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

And a closeup view of the spadix. Note the pollen grains.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowers

Beside the flowers are the leaf buds. Both the leaf and flower buds are actually fully formed the previous fall.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower

The leaf bud is the light green spike. The flowers are the dark coloured bodies.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) seeds

Seeds, at the end of August.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) plant

The flowers come out first, then the leaves follow, later.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) leaves

Skunk Cabbage is often found mixed in with Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) (not shown here).

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) leaves

The leaves are large and very green. They are what gives this plant its name, as they are very odiferous. When crushed they small like very powerful onions with a scent of skunk mixed in.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) leaves

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) leaves

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) plants

Skunk Cabbage plants often grow closely packed in an area. However, this doesn't stop other plants from growing alongside them, as the leaves are usually gone by summer.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) plants

At the end of April.


Range map for Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

PLEASE NOTE: A coloured Province or State means this species occurs somewhere in that Province/State.
The entire Province/State is coloured, regardless of where in that Province/State it occurs.

(Range map provided courtesy of the USDA website and is displayed here in accordance with their Policies)