Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex Nutt.

skunk-cabbage

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New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Skunk-cabbage is one of the earliest widlflowers to bloom in the spring. It is so named due to the unpleasant smell given off by all its tissues. The plant has a heat-producing (thermogenic) inflorescence (spadix). The combination of smell and heat attract flies and other insects that are typically attracted to carrion, and are the presumed pollinators. The plant was widely used by Native Americans to treat medical conditions ranging from epilepsy to swelling.

Habitat

Floodplain (river or stream floodplains), shores of rivers or lakes, swamps, wetland margins (edges of wetlands)

Characteristics

Habitat
wetlands
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Leaf arrangement
the leaves are growing only at the base of the plant (basal)
Leaf blade shape
  • the leaf blade is oblong (rectangular but with rounded ends)
  • the leaf blade is ovate (widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends)
Leaf blade length
100–600 mm
Flower petal color
  • blue to purple
  • pink to red
  • yellow
Petal fusion
the perianth parts are separate
Inflorescence type
  • the inflorescence differs from the choices given
  • the inflorescence is a spike (a long unbranched stem with flowers along it that lack stalks)
Ovary position
the ovary is above the point of petal and/or sepal attachment
Fruit type (specific)
the fruit is a berry (fleshy, with the wall enclosing one or more sections, with two or more seeds)
Show All Characteristics
  • Clonal plantlets
    Axillary bulblets
    there are no bulblets being produced in axils
  • Flowers
    Anther attachment
    the anther is attached by its base to the filament
    Bulblets replace flowers
    there are no bulblets where the flowers are located
    Carpels fused
    NA
    Flower bract length
    0 mm
    Flower bracts
    there are no bracts associated with the flower
    Flower number
    3–900
    Flower petal color
    • blue to purple
    • pink to red
    • yellow
    Flower symmetry
    there are two or more ways to evenly divide the flower (the flower is radially symmetrical)
    Form of style
    the style is knob-like at the tip, and unbranched
    Fringed petal edges
    the petals are not fringed
    Hairs on flower stalk
    NA
    Inflorescence hair glands
    the axis of the inflorescence has no hairs on it
    Inflorescence length
    20–30 mm
    Inflorescence type
    • the inflorescence differs from the choices given
    • the inflorescence is a spike (a long unbranched stem with flowers along it that lack stalks)
    Inflorescence width
    15–30 mm
    Length of flower stalk
    0 mm
    Marks on petals
    there are no noticeable marks on the petals
    Nectar spur
    the flower has no nectar spurs
    Number of carpels
    1
    Number of pistils
    1
    Number of sepals and/or petals
    there are four petals, sepals or tepals in the flower
    Number of styles
    1
    Ovary position
    the ovary is above the point of petal and/or sepal attachment
    Petal and sepal arrangement
    the flower includes only one cycle of petals or sepals
    Petal appearance
    the petals are green and/or leafy in texture
    Petal fusion
    the perianth parts are separate
    Sepal appearance
    the sepals resemble leaves in color and texture
    Spathe
    the plant has a spathe surrounding the flower spike
    Spathe form
    the spathe encloses or nearly encloses the spike of flowers
    Spathe length
    60–180 mm
    Stamen number
    4
    Stamen position relative to petals
    NA
    Stamens fused
    the stamens are not fused to one another
    Stamens fused outwards
    the stamens are not fused to the petals or tepals
    Style petal-like
    the style is not broad and flattened like a petal
    Tepals
    the petals and sepals are similar in size and color
  • Fruits or seeds
    Berry color
    • brown
    • green
    • purple
    • red
    Capsule ridges
    NA
    Fruit cross-section
    the fruit is at least somewhat flattened
    Fruit stalk orientation
    NA
    Fruit type (general)
    the fruit is fleshy
    Fruit type (specific)
    the fruit is a berry (fleshy, with the wall enclosing one or more sections, with two or more seeds)
    Other markings on berry
    the ripe fruits are mostly one color without spots or streaks
  • Glands or sap
    Sap
    the sap is milky and opaque, and may be white or colored
  • Growth form
    Lifespan
    the plant lives more than two years
    Root septa
    the roots do not have transverse septa
    Underground organs
    • the plant has a rhizome (a horizontal underground stem with roots growing from it)
    • there are only slender roots on the plant
  • Leaves
    Hairs on underside of leaf blade
    the underside of the leaf is not hairy, or has very few hairs
    Hairs on upper side of leaf blade
    the upper side of the leaf is not hairy, or has very few hairs
    Leaf arrangement
    the leaves are growing only at the base of the plant (basal)
    Leaf blade basal lobes
    • the leaf blades are lobed at their bases
    • the leaf blades do not have basal lobes
    Leaf blade base
    the leaf has a distinct leaf stalk (petiole)
    Leaf blade base shape
    • The base of the leaf blade is cordate (heart-shaped, with rounded lobes) or sagittate (arrow-shaped, with pointed, backward-facing lobes)
    • the base of the leaf blade is rounded
    Leaf blade bloom
    the underside of the leaf blade has no noticeable waxy or powdery bloom
    Leaf blade cross-section
    the leaf blade is more or less flat in cross-section
    Leaf blade faces
    both surfaces of the leaf blade are exposed
    Leaf blade form
    Fully-formed (i.e., expanded), +/- green leaf blades are found somewhere on the plant
    Leaf blade length
    100–600 mm
    Leaf blade orientation
    the upper surface of the leaf blade faces the stem of the plant
    Leaf blade shape
    • the leaf blade is oblong (rectangular but with rounded ends)
    • the leaf blade is ovate (widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends)
    Leaf blade surface colors
    the upper side of the leaf blade is relatively uniform in color
    Leaf blade tip
    • the tip of the leaf blade is acute (sharply pointed)
    • the tip of the leaf blade is obtuse (bluntly pointed)
    Leaf blade veins
    the lateral veins are palmate, (and do not arch towards the leaf tip) or pinnate
    Leaf blade width
    70–400 mm
    Leaf stalk length
    50–570 mm
    Leaf type
    the leaves are simple (lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets
    Leaflet number
    0
    Stipule twining
    NA
    Stipules
    there are no stipules on this plant
  • Place
    Habitat
    wetlands
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • edges of wetlands
    • river or stream floodplains
    • shores of rivers or lakes
    • swamps
  • Scent
    Plant odor
    the leaves smell like rotten meat or some other bad smell
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Flowering stem growth form
    the flowering stem is held upright
    Flowering stem leaves
    there are no true leaves on the flowering stem
    Stem hairs
    NA

Wetland Status

Occurs only in wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: OBL)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
present
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

Yes

Sometimes Confused With

Veratrum viride:
leaves with parallel veins and flowers in open panicles, not concealed within a bract (vs. S. foetidus, with leaves with branching veins and flowers in a fleshy spike concealed within a green to brown bract that is marked with purple).

Synonyms

  • Dracontium foetidum L.
  • Spathyema foetida (L.) Raf.

Family

Araceae

Genus

Symplocarpus

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