Skunk Cabbage

Symplocarpus foetidus Araceae

Growth habit




Native distribution

Native to the Finger Lakes Region


A 2' tall plant with a reddish flower spathe and mottled leaves that expand after flowering.
Light: shade
Moisture and Soil: moist to wet rich soil


Seed Treatment and Storage: Keep seed moist. Needs cold/moist stratification. Standing the pot in water will help germination.

Biocultural value

Skunk cabbage roots can be processed into starch and made into bread, but it may cause an unpleasant burning and puckering sensation a few minutes after ingestion. The young greens are more palatable but should be boiled in several changes of water. Skunk cabbage has documented uses among the Abnaki, Chippewa, Delaware, Haudenosaunee, Malecite, Menominee, Meskwaki, Micmac, Mohegan and Nanticoke. Its host of medicinal applications included anticonvulsant (for epilepsy), external antirheumatic, gynecological aid, and anthelmintic (worm medicine). The Haudenosaunee cooked the young leaves and shoots with salt, pepper or butter and even used a wash of the powdered root as an underarm deodorant.

The statements above were sourced from:

Fernald, Merritt Lyndon, and Alfred Charles Kinsey Kinsey. 1958. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Native American Ethnobotany Database: http://naeb.BRIT Native American Ethnobotany

Wildlife value

The colorful flower spathe is a warm refuge for insects in early spring. The carrion-like scent of the flowers attracts flies that lay their eggs in the flower and inadvertently cause cross-pollination. Slugs and snails occasionally feed on the foliage, while spiders take up residence inside the spathe to ambush visiting insects. Most herbivores avoid skunk cabbage foliage, but hungry black bears and snapping turtles may sample the leaves in early spring when they come out of hibernation. Wood ducks, ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasants, and bobwhite quail eat skunk cabbage seeds.



Poisonous description

Ingesting the plant can cause mouth pain and irritation thanks to the presence of oxalates. Overconsumption can lead to kidney failure and even death.


Mundy Wildflower Garden, Coy Glen, McLean Bogs, Eames Bog, Salt Road Fen, Purvis Road Wetlands Natural Area, Ringwood Ponds

Special characteristics

Smelly skunk cabbage is the earliest plant to flower in the garden. The plant uses energy stored in its roots to produce heat in early spring and can melt through snow.