When does this bloom?
Where does this bloom?
176.1, 185.8, 217.0
Eastern Skunk Cabbage is a low growing plant that prefers wetlands. It received its name from its foul smell. This plant is native to eastern North America and can be found as far north as Nova Scotia and south as far as North Carolina and Tennessee, It has also been spotted in northeastern Asia including Siberia, China and Japan. Although it is commonly known as “Skunk Cabbage”, it may also be referenced as , Clumpfoot Cabbage, Foetid Pothos, Meadow Cabbage, Polecat Weed, Skunk Cabbage, or Swamp Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). It is the only species in the genus and is protected as a state endangered plant in Tennessee.
Skunk cabbage is most commonly found in the wetlands of the Blue Ridge Parkway closests to Mileposts 176.1, 185.8, 217.0. It typically reaches the peak of its bloom season in the months of February and March.
To help identify this plant in your journey on the Parkway, look for its distingushed leaves which are large (40-55 cm long and 30-40 cm broad). It flowers very early in the year and produces a bloom that is mottled purple in color. At first, only the flowers are visible above the mud, with the stems buried below and the leaves emerging later.
Skunk cabbage earned its name from its odor, which is rather mild as long as the plant remains intact. Tearing or ripping of a fresh leaf will release its pungent odor. Though unpleasant, the smell is not harmful. The purpose of the foul odor is to attract its pollinators: scavenging flies, stoneflies, and bees. The odor in the leaves may also serve to discourage large animals from disturbing or damaging the plant. Though not poisonous to the touch, the skunk cabbage is considered to be inedible.
Skunk cabbage is known in botany for its ability to exhibite thermogenesis. This process creates heat of up to 15-35° C above air temperature and can melt its way through frozen ground. Although flowering while there is still snow and ice on the ground, it is successfully pollinated by early insects that also emerge at this time fueling pollination.
Eastern Skunk Cabbage has roots which contract after growing into the earth. This pulls the stem of the plant deeper into the mud, so that the plant in effect grows downward, not upward. Each year, the plant grows deeper into the earth, so that older plants are practically impossible to dig up. It is thought that these plants may be able to live for hundreds of years. They reproduce by hard, pea-sized seeds which fall in the mud and are carried away by animals or by floods.
In the 19th century the U. S. Pharmacopoeia listed eastern skunk cabbage as the drug “dracontium”. It was used in the treatment of respiratory diseases, nervous disorders, rheumatism, and dropsy. In North America and Europe, skunk cabbage is occasionally cultivated in water gardens. Skunk cabbage was used extensively as a medicinal plant, seasoning, and magical talisman by various tribes of Native Americans.