Symplocarpus foetidus (Eastern Skunk Cabbage) bonanza in the mountains of North Carolina — 2019-02-16

Back in the saddle again! I strive to have a post in January of each year, but this year, life got in the way a little bit. However, while all you northern folks are still snowed in, we in the south have flowers blooming. The plant which is the subject of this blog post is Symplocarpus foetidus or Eastern Skunk Cabbage. My good friend, Alan Cressler, met me at the house early Saturday morning, and we wasted no time in heading on our 3-hour trip to get to several bog sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway where we hoped to find Skunk Cabbage in flower.

This is a rather strange plant if nothing more than why it was named, Skunk Cabbage. Generally found in more northerly climes, Skunk Cabbage does make its way as far south as North Carolina and Tennessee (where it is considered endangered). It gets its common name from the malodorous “fragrance” it emits from its flowers and its leaves, when crushed – supposedly like a skunk. Thus the botanical epithet, foetidus, meaning “smelling extremely unpleasant”. To me, though, it smells more like burned rubber or plastic. In any case, it doesn’t take long to be overcome with disgust in its presence.

The 2 to 3-inch (5 to 7.5-cm) flowers are thick and leather-like. They are quite tough, but snap like celery stalks when bent or, heaven forbid, stepped on. Because this is my first occasion to study and photograph these mysterious flowers, I am amazed at the color patterns and color varieties that we found on our trip to the bogs along the Blue Ridge Parkway in extreme northwestern North Carolina. Here is an image of a typical Skunk Cabbage flower which we encountered in one of the several bogs we visited:

Skunk CabbageSkunk Cabbage

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