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SYMPLOCARPUS foetidus

Image of Symplocarpus foetidus

Jesse Saylor

Family

Araceae

Botanical Name

SYMPLOCARPUS foetidus

Plant Common Name

Clumpfoot Cabbage, Eastern Skunk Cabbage, Foetid Pothos, Skunk Cabbage, Swamp Cabbage

General Description

The bold, impressive looks of this spring wetland wildflower match the bold, noxious smell that emanates from its carrion-colored aroid flowers. Native to northeastern North America, from Quebec down to the Carolinas and as far west as Minnesota, this hardy perennial thrives in bogs, swamps and moist meadows. It's flowers appear before the foliage in earliest spring and are unique on that they generate heat, up to 60 to 95°F (15 to 35°C) even on the coldest days. Huge, bold rosettes of bright green foliage follow the flowers and remain into summer. As a garden plant it would only be useful in large, wet, naturalistic gardens. Native Americans valued it as a medicinal for a variety of ailments.

In earliest spring, classic aroid flowers emerge from the soil with mottled maroon red spathes each surrounding a bulbous, knobby, yellow spadex. Flies and other carrion loving insects are drawn to the warmth and overwhelming stink of the blooms. They are the chief pollinators but some studies also suggest the flowers are like wind tunnels able to catch and spread pollen, so wind pollination also may occur. Clusters of large, simple, bright green leaves unfurl around the flowers and eventually envelope them entirely. The leaves remain attractive through summer but will quickly wane if soil moisture dries up. Small bulbous stalks of reddish berry like fruits are produced in fall.

This native wildflower is not for the everyday gardener and is best reserved for large, moist, naturalistic gardens. It tends to grow and needs plenty of space. Provide it with deep, fertile soil that is moist to wet. It naturally grows in swamps, stream or pond edges and moist old fields. If soil moisture is abundant, it will tolerate full sun. Otherwise it requires bright dappled shade. Daring gardeners may try growing is in large containers or moist gardens but should expect unwelcome smells in early spring.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    8 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    3 - 8

  • Plant Type

    Perennial

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    1'-3' / 0.3m - 0.9m

  • Width

    1'-4' / 0.3m - 1.2m

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Spring, Late Winter

  • Native To

    Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, North-Central United States, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Poorly Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Wet Site

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water, Ample Water

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Yellow, Burgundy, Dark Red

  • Flower Color Modifier

    Multi-Color

  • Fruit Color

    Dark Red, Sienna

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Lime Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Bold

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Bog Garden, Water Gardens, Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes