Classification Hierarchy
Kingdom Plantae
Subkingdom Tracheophyta
Superdivision Spermatophyta
Division Magnoliophyta
Class Liliopsida
Subclass Arecidae
Order Arales
Family Araceae
Genus Symplocarpus
Species Symplocarpus foetidus
Skunk cabbage

Skunk Cabbage March 26, 2010. Location: Hanging Bog (map)

BONAP, FNA, ITIS, USDA, VPI

Scientific Name: Symplocarpus foetidus (Symplocarpus = connected fruit [ovaries are connected into a compound fruit]; foetidus = foul smelling)

Common Name: Skunk cabbage

Origin: Native

Notes: Skunk cabbage is usually the first plant to flower in the spring. It often melts its way through patches of snow. It grows in muddy soils and is rare in Iowa. A distribution map (FNA) shows that just a small region of eastern Iowa is included on the western edge of the species distribution. The plant exhibits several unusual characteristics including; a crowded and compressed inflorescence on a structure called a spadix which is protected by a modified hood-like leaf called a spathe, a thermal regulating ability, contractile roots which pull the plant further into the ground each season, and a rarely appreciated (by humans) fetid odor. Learn more about these in the video and the last three references below—you may need to scroll down to the articles. There is also some disagreement concerning the correct author citation for S. foetidus.

Additional references: [video], 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.

Field Marks for Identification:

Flowers: March; individual flowers are crowded on the surface of a spadix which provides a ground level inflorescence; the spadix stands upright on a short dark purple stalk, roughly squarish flowers form polygonal patterns on the surface, colors brownish yellow to purple, flowers have both pistillate and staminate structures-the female structures mature first; pollination is probably by insects, reproduction is by seed.

Leaves: A modified leaf (the spathe) surrounds and protects the spadix and is the first to emerge in spring, sometimes by melting the snow with a heat generating metabolism that is unusual for plants. Soon after, large green (odiferous if damaged) leaves emerge and unfurl.

Glossaries of botanical terms: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

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