Eastern skunk cabbage
After a long winter, it’s nice to see any plant emerging from the ground, even if it’s a little smelly. Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is one of the earliest native wildflowers to emerge and bloom in the late winter or very early spring (between February and early April, depending on location). Its unusual flower can actually produce heat, allowing it to poke up through snow and ice. Eastern skunk cabbage flowers consist of a hoodlike, burgundy-mottled spathe that shelters a knobby spadix, which holds the small, inconspicuous true flowers. A little later the large, cabbage-shaped leaves appear and persist through late summer. All parts of the plant emit a skunky smell when bruised.
Common name: Eastern skunk cabbage or skunk cabbage
Botanical name: Symplocarpus foetidus
Plant type: herbaceous perennial
Zones: 4 to 7
Height: 1 to 2 feet
Sun: Part shade
Soil: Boggy, loam, or clay
Moisture: Consistently moist to wet
Mulch: None needed.
Pruning: None needed.
Fertilizer: None needed.
Pests and diseases
Skunk cabbage needs consistently moist to wet soil conditions, so it’s perfect for bog gardens or the edge of a pond or stream. Various parts of skunk cabbage have been used medicinally. However, because of the presence of calcium oxalate, the leaves and roots are moderately toxic if not cooked or dried.
All in the family
Skunk cabbage is a member of the arum family (Araceae). Spathe-and-spadix flowers are typical of plants in the Araceae. Other familiar arum family plants include Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.), caladium (Caladium spp.), and calla lilies (Zantedeschia spp.).
Where to buy
Lazy S’s Farm Nursery, Barboursville, VA, 304-497-2208, www.lazyssfarm.com
Sunshine Farm and Gardens, Renick, WV, www.sunfarm.com
Photo by Elizabeth Noll