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Spotted sheath-like hood (flower located within hood)

Symplocarpus foetidus

Common Name: Skunk Cabbage

Entry Author:  C. Westring
Description:  This perennial monocot is one of the first flowers to bloom in late winter.  This plant even produces heat which melts the surrounding snow or ice in order to produce a flower.  The plants have a foul odor when crushed, giving them their name.  They have a massive root system anchoring the plant deep in the ground.   
Large (30-60 cm long) ovate to cordate leaves are ribbed and broad at the base; produced after flowering
Purplish-brown and green flowers bloom from February to April.  Produces large amounts of pollen that are clustered into a spike and enclosed in a purple and yellow spotted sheath-like hood, close to the ground. 
Actual flowers are tiny (located on the ball-like spathe inside the hooded spadix); whole flowering structure is 7-12 cm high.
Seeds:  After the flowers have been pollinated, a fruit head forms, containing many berry-like fruits.  Each of these berry-like fruits contain one seed. 
Stem:  A thick roundish stem, called a rootstock or rhizome
Branching Pattern:
Height:  30-60 cm
Conditions/Habitat/Kind of Forest:  Beech forests of Wisconsin, lowland forests, and pine barrens; Swamps, bogs, seepage areas, and very moist depressions in woods
Range:  Temperate Asia as well as Eastern, Northeastern, North- Central, and Southeastern portions of the U.S.
Conservation Status-US/ World Wide:  This plant is endangered
Uses (Human): Has been documented as a folklore medicine; a vertebrate poison due to the calcium oxalate in the leaves


Connecticut Wildflowers.  November 13, 2005.  Connecticut Botanical Society.  Accessed:  November 29, 2005.

Redington, Charles B.  Plants in Wetlands.  Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1994.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).  2004.  The Nature Institute.  Accessed:  November 29, 2005.  <>

Urban Horticulture.  2005.  North Carolina State University.  Accessed:  November 29, 2005.  <>

USDA, NRCS. 2005. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 ( Data compiled from various sources by Mark W. Skinner. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

This page was created by: C. Westring, Muhlenberg College
Last updated 12/21/05