Skunk Cabbage – Arales Araceae Lysichitum americanum

Identification & Description:
Skunk Cabbage is a large-leafed plant that grows in wet areas, especially near streams, ponds, marshes, and wet woods. It is easy to recognize, with its huge leaves rising directly from the ground.

Skunk Cabbage is one of the first plants to bloom in the Spring, and can bloom anywhere from February to May. The first part of the plant to appear is the spathe. The spathe is a brownish-purple, shell-like pod with green splotches. It may resemble something from a science-fiction movie.

As the spathe gets bigger, it will reveal another part inside, called a spadix. The spadix is a litle knob covered with small yellow flowers.

Physical Characteristics
Perennial growing to 1m by 0.75m at a slow rate. It is hardy to zone 6. It is in flower in April, and the seeds ripen from June to July. The scented flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. We rate it 3 out of 5 for usefulness.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires wet soil and can grow in water.

Edible Uses
Leaves; Root.
Young shoots – these must be thoroughly cooked otherwise they are poisonous. The native North American Indian tribes would cook them in several changes of water, the end result being a tasteless mush.

The leaves can be dried then powdered and used as a thickening agent.

Older leaves have been used to wrap up food that was being baked. The leaves would impart a pleasant flavouring to the food.

Young flower stalks – cooked. Only used when there was a shortage of other foods, the stalks must be thoroughly cooked or else they are poisonous. It is said that no more than three stalks should be consumed at one meal.

Root – cooked. It must be thoroughly cooked or dried before use, otherwise it is poisonous. Rich in starch, a flour can be made from the dried and ground root. The root has a hot flavour, somewhat like ginger. The root is best harvested in the autumn.

Other Uses
Containers; Ground cover; Lining; Waxed paper.
The leaves are large and water repellent, they can be used as a ‘waxed paper’ and also for lining fruit baskets etc and for wrapping food in for baking. They were also folded and used as containers for collecting berries, as drinking cups and as a covering or mat for food that was being dried.

The plants have very large leaves and form a slowly spreading clump. They can be grown as a ground cover, spaced about 1 metre apart each way.

Cultivation details
Requires a wet or damp humus-rich soil in full sun or semi-shade. Plants often do not flower when grown in the shade. Grows well by water or in the bog garden. Succeeds in shallow water and also in still or flowing water.

Hardy to at least -15°c.

Young plants require protection from slugs.

Plants are slow to establish at first, taking some years, but can then become naturalized and often self-sow. The flowers have an unpleasant aroma which is rather like a combination of skunk, carrion and garlic. This smell attracts flies and midges in great numbers to pollinate the flowers and so spiders tend to like making their webs in the plant so they can catch lots of food.

Hybridizes with L. camtschatcense.