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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
The flowers of American Skunk-cabbage are visually striking and uniquely captivating. Emerging in early spring, these flowers boast a vibrant yellow hue, reminiscent of sunshine breaking through the winter gloom. Their appearance is complemented by a distinct and pungent odor, which serves to attract pollinators while also deterring potential predators. The flowers are clustered on a thick, fleshy spadix, surrounded by a large, bright green spathe that resembles a hood or sheath. Their robust presence in wetland habitats adds a splash of color and intrigue to the landscape, marking the onset of the changing seasons with their bold and unforgettable charm.
The fruits of American Skunk-cabbage offer a continuation of the plant's unique allure. Following the flowering period, these fruits develop into spherical clusters, each containing numerous small seeds. Initially green in color, the fruits gradually transition to a deep shade of orange as they ripen, adding a burst of warmth to the cool, damp environments they inhabit. Their appearance stands in contrast to the surrounding foliage, drawing attention with their vibrant hue. Additionally, they serve as a vital food source for various wildlife species, contributing to the ecological balance of their wetland habitats. Despite their less conspicuous nature compared to the showy flowers, the fruits of the American Skunk-cabbage play a crucial role in the plant's life cycle and the broader ecosystem.
The leaves of American Skunk-cabbage are as impressive as they are functional. Broad and heart-shaped, they emerge from the ground on sturdy stalks, forming dense clumps that blanket the wetland floor. These large leaves can reach impressive sizes, often spanning over two feet in diameter, providing ample surface area for photosynthesis. Their glossy, dark green surface is marked by prominent veining, adding texture and character to their appearance. Notably, the leaves possess a remarkable ability to generate heat through a process known as thermogenesis, enabling them to melt through snow and ice and emerge early in the spring. This adaptation allows the plant to thrive in its preferred boggy habitats, where other vegetation may struggle to survive. Overall, the leaves of the American Skunk-cabbage are both visually striking and biologically remarkable, embodying the resilience and adaptability of this fascinating species.
The aroma of American Skunk-cabbage is distinctive and memorable, earning it the "skunk" moniker for its pungent scent. When in bloom, the flowers emit a strong, somewhat foul odor that is often likened to that of rotting meat or a skunk's spray. This unique fragrance serves a dual purpose in nature: attracting pollinators, such as flies and beetles, while also deterring herbivores and potential predators. The powerful aroma is a result of volatile compounds released by the plant, which can be detected from a considerable distance, particularly in the damp environments where the plant thrives. While the scent may be off-putting to some, it adds to the plant's intrigue and serves as a reminder of nature's diverse and often surprising adaptations.
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.

30 Interesting Facts About American Skunk-cabbage

Here are 30 interesting facts about American Skunk-cabbage (Lysichiton americanus):

  1. American Skunk-cabbage is native to North America, particularly the Pacific Northwest region.
  2. It is also known by other common names such as Western Skunk-cabbage and Swamp Lantern.
  3. The scientific name "Lysichiton" is derived from the Greek words "lysis," meaning loosening or freeing, and "chiton," meaning tunic, referring to the spathe that encloses the flower cluster.
  4. Despite its name, American Skunk-cabbage is not a true cabbage and is not related to the cabbage commonly used in cooking.
  5. It belongs to the Araceae family, which includes other well-known plants like the Peace Lily and Philodendron.
  6. American Skunk-cabbage is characterized by its large, glossy leaves and distinctive yellow flowers.
  7. The plant emits a foul odor resembling that of rotting meat, which attracts its pollinators, such as flies and beetles.
  8. The foul smell is primarily caused by compounds released by the plant, including dimethyl sulfide and dimethyl disulfide.
  9. Despite its unpleasant aroma, American Skunk-cabbage is an important food source for various wildlife species, including bears, deer, and rodents.
  10. Indigenous peoples of North America traditionally used American Skunk-cabbage for medicinal purposes, including treating wounds and respiratory ailments.
  11. The leaves of American Skunk-cabbage can generate heat through thermogenesis, allowing them to emerge early in the spring and melt through snow and ice.
  12. This heat-producing ability is one of the few examples of thermogenesis in plants outside of the Arum family.
  13. American Skunk-cabbage typically grows in wetland habitats, such as marshes, swamps, and stream banks.
  14. It prefers acidic soils and can often be found near bodies of water with slow-moving or stagnant water.
  15. The plant is tolerant of shade and can thrive in both full sun and partial shade conditions.
  16. American Skunk-cabbage is an herbaceous perennial, meaning it lives for several years and regrows from the same root system each year.
  17. The flowers of American Skunk-cabbage are arranged on a thick, fleshy spadix surrounded by a large, hood-like spathe.
  18. Each flower cluster can contain hundreds of individual flowers, providing a striking display when in bloom.
  19. The flowers of American Skunk-cabbage are pollinated primarily by flies and beetles attracted to the foul odor.
  20. After flowering, American Skunk-cabbage produces spherical clusters of orange fruits, each containing numerous small seeds.
  21. The fruits are typically consumed by wildlife, aiding in seed dispersal and contributing to the plant's spread.
  22. American Skunk-cabbage has been introduced to parts of Europe and New Zealand, where it is considered an invasive species.
  23. The plant can spread rapidly in favorable conditions, outcompeting native vegetation and altering ecosystem dynamics.
  24. In cultivation, American Skunk-cabbage can be grown in bog gardens or other moist, shaded areas.
  25. It is best propagated through division of the rhizomes, as seeds can be slow to germinate and may require specific conditions.
  26. While American Skunk-cabbage is not commonly cultivated for food, some enthusiasts have experimented with incorporating it into recipes after proper preparation to neutralize toxins.
  27. The plant is considered toxic if consumed raw due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause irritation and discomfort.
  28. Proper cooking or fermentation methods can render American Skunk-cabbage safe for consumption by neutralizing the toxins.
  29. Despite its toxicity, American Skunk-cabbage plays a valuable role in wetland ecosystems, providing habitat and food for various species.
  30. Efforts to control the spread of American Skunk-cabbage in non-native areas are important for preserving native biodiversity and ecosystem health.

These facts highlight the fascinating biology, ecology, and cultural significance of American Skunk-cabbage.


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


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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