Skunk Cabbage: Did you miss this Catskills wildflower?

Skunk cabbage is a native northeastern wildflower, and a conspicuous plant at this time of year here in the Catskills. It is especially common in wooded bottomland which is seasonally flooded. Its bright green clusters of leaves are developed and obvious at a time when most other plants have barely gotten started, and the trees have not yet leafed out. The leaves are the source of the plant’s name, cabbage-like in appearance and foul-smelling when bruised. Skunk cabbage has super-strong roots that pull the core of the plant down into the muck. This keeps the plant from getting washed away during floods, and it keeps the plant from getting uprooted when black bears and other herbivores munch on their leaves. They are an attractive source of food for animals that don’t have much else going on in terms of salad during early spring.

Anthurium or flamingo flower

Most people don’t really know the flower of the skunk cabbage, but that is probably the most interesting part of this native plant. The flower emerges just before the leaves, often while the snow is still melting, so most people never see it. It doesn’t look like a typical Catskills wildflower at all. Skunk cabbage is a member of a plant family, the Aroid family, whose members are mostly tropical. Other Aroids include the popular houseplant Philodendron, and the garden calla lily. All Aroids share a common flower structure. The flower consists of a single modified leaf (called a spathe), cupping a solid stick or ball of densely packed florets (called a spadix), as shown by this tropical Anthurium or flamingo flower (another Aroid). The next photo shows the spathe of the Skunk cabbage flower, and for the last photo, I cut away the spathe to expose the Skunk Cabbage spadix. Side-by-side comparison shows that, although both flowers are overtly different in appearance, they share the same ground plan.

Skunk cabbage spadix

Spathe of the Skunk cabbage flower


  1. I understand that properly cooked, Skunk Cabbage can be eaten. What can you tell me about this?? I don’t think I would ever eat tell stuff, but having heard the can be eaten,needs more information.

    • Hello Wendy.
      Skunk cabbage is one of the many plants I post about which can be eaten or used for medicine, but please be sure you have properly identified the plant and processed it correctly. I don’t want anybody to get sick!

      • How does someone prepare it

        • I am not an expert on herbal preparation or the cooking of wild foods, I blog to inform about gardening plants and natural history. You can look up preparation ideas, but again, please be careful. I don’t want anyone getting sick!

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