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American Skunk-cabbage

Lysichiton americanus

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Araceae (Arum)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
180 centimetres tall
Bogs, gardens, marshes, parks, ponds, riverbanks, seaside, swamps, water, waterside, wetland, woodland.

Green, 1 petal
An ostentatious, bright yellow spathe. Enclosed, is a green spadix which bears the small green flowers. Pollinated by insects.
The green fruit are berry-like. They each contain 1 or 2 seeds. The seeds ripen in June and July.
Large, oblong but short-stalked leaves.
This plant smells revolting.
Other Names:
Swamp Lantern, Western Skunk Cabbage, Yellow Skunk Cabbage.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Lysichiton americanus, also known as American skunk cabbage, is a perennial herb in the Araceae family. It is native to North America, specifically the west coast of Canada and the United States, and it grows in wet habitats such as bogs, swamps, and along stream banks. It has large, glossy, heart-shaped leaves and a tall, dense spike of small yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. The plant is also known for its large, fleshy, greenish-yellow spathe (a large bract that surrounds the flowers) that emits a strong, skunk-like odor, which attracts pollinators. It is also used as an ornamental plant in gardens and in traditional medicine. American skunk cabbage is different from Kamchatka skunk-cabbage, as the former is native to North America, and the latter is native to northeastern Asia.


American Skunk-cabbage, also known as Lysichiton americanus, is a unique plant native to North America, specifically the Pacific Northwest region. It is a member of the Araceae family, which includes other plants such as the peace lily, taro, and philodendron.

One of the most distinctive features of the American Skunk-cabbage is its large, leathery leaves that can grow up to six feet long and two feet wide. The leaves emerge from a central stalk and can be green or yellow-green in color. The plant also produces a large yellowish-green flower cluster called a spadix, which is surrounded by a hood-like structure called a spathe.

While the American Skunk-cabbage may not be the most aesthetically pleasing plant, it has a unique and interesting history. The plant has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples for a variety of purposes, including medicinal and culinary uses. The root of the plant was used to treat various ailments such as colds, coughs, and stomach aches. It was also used to make poultices and salves for treating wounds and skin irritations.

In addition to its medicinal uses, the American Skunk-cabbage was also used as a food source. The root and stem of the plant were boiled and consumed, and the leaves were used to wrap and cook other foods.

Interestingly, the plant gets its name from the unpleasant odor it emits. The plant produces a chemical compound called skatole, which gives it a distinct skunk-like odor. This odor serves as a deterrent to animals and helps protect the plant from being eaten.

The American Skunk-cabbage is a unique and fascinating plant that has played an important role in the history of the Pacific Northwest region. While it may not be the most visually appealing plant, it is a reminder of the many uses and benefits that plants can provide.

The American Skunk-cabbage is also an important part of the ecosystem in which it grows. The large leaves of the plant provide shade and cover for small animals, and the flowers are an important source of nectar for pollinators such as bees and flies. The plant also helps to prevent erosion by stabilizing the soil with its large root system.

In addition to its ecological and cultural significance, the American Skunk-cabbage has also been studied for its potential medicinal properties. Research has shown that the plant contains compounds with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which may make it useful for treating a variety of health conditions.

Despite its many benefits, the American Skunk-cabbage is also a plant that requires careful management. In some areas, the plant has become invasive, outcompeting native plant species and disrupting local ecosystems. It is important to carefully monitor and manage the growth of this plant to ensure that it remains a valuable part of the ecosystem without causing harm to other species.

The American Skunk-cabbage is a unique and interesting plant with a rich cultural history and many potential benefits. While it may not be the most attractive plant, its size, odor, and medicinal properties make it an important and valuable part of the natural world. By understanding and appreciating the role that this plant plays in the ecosystem, we can help to ensure its continued survival and benefit from its many uses for generations to come.

One of the most fascinating features of the American Skunk-cabbage is its ability to generate heat. The plant is capable of raising its temperature by up to 20 degrees Celsius above the surrounding air temperature. This is accomplished through a process called thermogenesis, which is the production of heat through metabolic activity.

The heat generated by the plant is believed to serve a number of functions. It may help to attract pollinators by making the flowers more visible and fragrant, and it may also help to speed up the growth and development of the plant. The heat generated by the plant can also help to melt snow and ice around the base of the plant, allowing it to access water and nutrients more easily.

Another interesting aspect of the American Skunk-cabbage is its unique relationship with fungi. The plant forms a symbiotic relationship with certain species of fungi that help it to absorb nutrients from the soil. In exchange, the plant provides the fungi with sugars produced through photosynthesis. This type of relationship, called mycorrhizae, is common among many plant species, but the American Skunk-cabbage has a particularly unique and specialized relationship with its fungal partners.

Overall, the American Skunk-cabbage is a fascinating and important plant that has played an important role in the history and ecology of North America. From its use by indigenous peoples for food and medicine, to its ability to generate heat and form specialized relationships with fungi, this plant is a reminder of the incredible complexity and diversity of the natural world.


American Skunk-cabbage filmed at Elterwater in the Lake District on the 17th April 2023.


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