This is one fascinating native plant!
The odd-looking skunk cabbage flowers consist of a twisted, reddish-brown spathe that is open at one side, and surrounds a knob-like, greenish-yellow spadix on which numerous small flowers are tightly packed. Flowers appear in late winter before the leaves. A spear of a leaf bud rapidly unfolds in a spiral pattern to form a large, funnel-shaped rosette of huge, dark green leaves. A strong fetid odor, especially when the plant is bruised, resembles decaying flesh (thus the common name) and lures flies and carrion beetles which are its primary pollinators.
Skunk cabbage is one of just a few plants that exhibit thermogenesis, or the ability to metabolically generate heat.
Per the National Wildlife Federation: “Skunk cabbage has a remarkable ability to produce heat that allows it to emerge and bloom even when the ground is still frozen. During the winter when temperatures are freezing, the flower buds can warm up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which melts the snow around the plant. Pollinated flower heads develop berrylike fruits containing seeds, which germinate into new skunk cabbages the next growing season. Skunk cabbage leaves decay rather quickly. The leaves have high water content, so there is less plant matter to dry out and decompose. A skunk cabbage loses its leaves annually, but the plant itself can live up to 20 years.”
Tolerates shallow standing water for a short time but will not survive where the crown remains under water all year.
Height: 2-3 ft.
Spread: 2-4 ft.
Bloom time: late February through spring
Sun: partial sun to light shade
Water: consistently wet
Deer and rabbit resistant, but bear may eat young shoots 😊
photo credit: Cephas