Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Skunk Cabbage - Symplocarpus foetidus   (L.) Salisbury ex W.P.C. BartonOnly member of Symplocarpus in NC.
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Section 5 » Order Arales » Family Araceae
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Author(L.) Salisbury ex W.P.C. Barton
DistributionScattered in the northern mountains and over much of the Piedmont (except for the southwestern quarter), and into the edge of the Coastal Plain in Northampton and Halifax counties.

This is a Northeastern species, ranging across eastern Canada and south throughout nearly all of VA, but southward just into central NC and northeastern TN.
AbundanceInfrequent to locally fairly common in the northern mountains (at least in Ashe, Alleghany, and Watauga counties). Rare and somewhat local in the Piedmont and northwestern edge of the Coastal Plain. This is a northern species and thus is somewhat more "frequent" in the northern counties than in the southern half of the Piedmont.
HabitatThis is a species of damp, shaded "swampy" ground. It is found in wet spots in bottomland forests or drier parts of swamps, along boggy streamsides, and in shaded bogs. In Richmond County it occurs in a streamhead pocosin not far from the Pee Dee River, along with sedges and Smilax laurifolia.
See also Habitat Account for General Broadleaf Herbaceous Mires
PhenologyBlooms very early, in late winter; can be in bloom by early or mid-January downstate, and into April at higher elevations; fruits from July to September.
IdentificationThis is an easily identified species both when in flower or later when in leaf (and the flower is no longer in evidence). In midwinter or late winter, the plant sends up a large spathe that can be about 4 inches high and 3 inches broad, somewhat in the shape of a candle-flame; it is brownish-purple and generally striped or spotted. Inside the spathe is a stocky spadix, with the flowering head being about 1 inch high and across and generally pale yellow. The spathe dies back to the ground by spring, leaving the spadix, but at that time the several huge leaves appear. Each leaf is widely elliptic with a rounded tip, and about 1.5 feet long and close to 1 foot wide, among the largest of leaves on any plant in NC. A clump of leaves looks a bit like tobacco leaves on a wet forest floor. The leaves are so large that you can easily spot a stand of the plants when driving at 55 mph! Skunk Cabbage is not overly difficult to find in Alleghany and Ashe counties, but elsewhere the populations are more widely scattered on the landscape.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Eastern Skunk Cabbage. When the leaves are bruised or torn, the plant does indeed smell quite like a skunk, as the scientific and common names indicate.
State RankS3
Global RankG5
State StatusW6
US Status
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