Symplocarpus foetidus

Common Name: skunk cabbage 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Araceae
Native Range: Northeastern North America
Zone: 4 to 7
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Bloom Time: February to April
Bloom Description: Mottled maroon and chartreuse spathe, pale yellow to purple spadix
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Water Plant, Naturalize
Tolerate: Wet Soil


Best grown in wet, muddy, humusy, moderately acidic soil in part shade to full shade. Some dappled light is best, and hot, afternoon sun should be avoided. This plant emerges in late winter to early spring and then goes dormant and disappears by late summer. Tolerates occasional inundation, but the crown of the plant cannot be constantly submerged. Intolerant of any drying of the soil or drought. Propagate by seed, which can be harvested in late summer to early fall. The seeds cannot be stored and must be planted immediately. Propagation by division is possible but the root system of mature individuals is very extensive and nearly impossible to dig. Cutting any part of the plant will also release a foul odor. Hardy in Zones 4-7.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Symplocarpus foetidus, commonly called skunk cabbage, is a rhizomatous, herbaceous perennial native to parts of the Upper Midwest and Northeastern United States where it is found growing along stream banks, in fens, wet woodlands, swamps, and other wet, shady, seepage areas. Aroid-type, fetid-smelling inflorescences emerge in late winter or early spring and can reach up to 6" tall. The hood-like spathe is mottled maroon and chartreuse and contains the 2-4" tall, spike-like, pale yellow to purple spadix. The inflorescences are thermogenic, meaning they can produce their own heat. This helps spread their odor to attract carrion flies, gnats and other pollinators. The highly veined, cordate leaves emerge after the inflorescence and can be quite large, reaching up to 2' long and 1' wide, held on 2' long petioles (leaf stems), and forming a vase-shaped rosette. The leaves are a larval food source for various species of moth. All parts of this plant contain high levels of calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause irritation to the skin if touched and the mouth and throat if ingested raw and in large enough quantities. The plant has traditionally been used as a medicine to treat various human ailments.

The genus name Symplocarpus means "connected fruits" and refers to the appearance of the spadix which matures into a compound fruiting structure.

The specific epithet foetidus means "smelly" or "stinking", in reference to the odor produced by the flowers and by cutting any part of the plant

The common name skunk cabbage refers to the odor produced by the flowers and by cutting any part of the plant as well as the appearance of the highly veined foliage


No known pest or disease problems. This species is threatened by loss of wetland habitat in some areas. Do not harvest plants from the wild for garden use.


Suitable for use on the banks of streams or ponds, bog gardens, or other constantly moist, shady areas of the garden.