Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Skunk Cabbage is one of the earliest flowers to bloom; it can come out as early as February, before the leaves have appeared at all. The curious inflorescence at once marks it as a member of the Arum family, which also includes Jack-in-the-Pulpits, as well as the callas and anthuriums in florists’ shops. This plant was photographed in early April, by which time the leaves had emerged; they smell awful if you crush them. It likes wet ground, and this one was blooming in a muddy low spot next to the Squaw Run in Fox Chapel.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

SYMPLOCÁRPUS Salisb. SKUNK CABBAGE. Stamens 4, opposite the sepals, with at length rather slender filaments; anthers extrorse, 2-celled, opening lengthwise. Style 4-angled and awl-shaped; stigma small. Ovule solitary, suspended, anatropous. Fruit a globular or ovoid mass, composed of the enlarged and spongy spadix, inclosing the spherical seeds just beneath the surface, which is roughened with the persistent fleshy sepals and pyramidal styles.— Perennial herb, with a strong odor like that of the skunk, and also somewhat alliaceous; a very thick rootstock, and a cluster of very large and broad entire veiny leaves, preceded in earliest spring by the nearly sessile spathes, which barely rise out of the ground. (Name from symploke, connection, and karpos, fruit, in allusion to the coalescence of the ovaries into a compound fruit.)

S. foétidus (L.) Nutt. Leaves ovate, cordate, becoming 3-6 dm. long, short-petioled; spathe spotted and striped with purple and yellowish-green, ovate, incurved. (Spathyema Raf.)—Bogs and moist grounds, N. S. to N. C, w. to Ont., Minn., and Ia.

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3 responses

  1. Justin Collinger

    Can anyone hear identify the small green leaves in this picture? I knew what they were once but now I can’t remember for the life of me.

    Cheers,
    Justin

    April 17, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    • Dr. Boli

      The small leaves are seedlings of more than one sort. The short, roundish ones with a slight notch at the end are probably Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens pallida).

      April 19, 2011 at 10:45 am

  2. Justin Collinger

    Thanks for answering and thanks for this blog! I love it.

    April 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm

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