Skunk cabbage is a coarse herbaceous plant. The stem consists of a stout rhizome oriented vertically in the soil. Leaves and flowers arise from the tip of the rhizome which is often not visible, resulting in the appearance of leaves and flowers arising directly from the swampy mires where these plants grow. Flowers appear during the winter, long before the leaves. The flowers are minute, clustered into a ball-like group (spadix) almost entirely enclosed by a fleshy, hood-like, spathe. The spathe ranges from 8 to 15 cm in height, is more or less pear-shaped, widest near the bottom, and tapers to a horizontal or curled point; spathe margins overlap except at the widest point where a small gap allows access to the flowers inside. Spathe color patterns include irregular spots, lines, and splotches, in shades of green, maroon, and purple. The small flowers are embedded on the surface of a globe-like spadix. Each flower has four sepals, four stamens, and a pistil consisting of a stout, elongate, stigma visible above the ovary which is buried in the surface of the spadix. Fruits and seeds reach maturity by the end of the growing season. Leaves arise as a rosette well after the flowers; leaves have stout petioles and ovate blades with pinnate net-venation. Leaves can exceed one-half meter in length. At the end of the growing season the fruiting spadix is a spongy mass about 8 to 12 cm across with numerous seeds embedded just below the surface. Each seed is about 1 cm thick.

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Copyright © 2009, Virginia Native Plant Society. This article first appeared in Virginia Native Plant Society Brochure (2009), 1-3.

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