Mark A. Miller
Plant Common Name
American Skunkcabbage, Swamp Lantern, Yellow Skunkcabbage
In early spring the foul-smelling wetland wildflower, American skunkcabbage, puts forth yellow aroid flowers followed by enormous ornamental clumps of large elliptical leaves that remain into summer. This herbaceous perennial grows from deep-rooted rhizomes, which are edible and helped sustain Native Americans in winter months. The foetid flowers actually emanate heat when they open in earliest spring and have been known to melt snow. This species is native to northwestern North America, from southern Alaska southward to California and across to Montana. In many parts of Eurasia it has become invasive.
In late winter to early spring, yellow flowers comprised of a club-like spadix partially cloaked by a pale yellow to light yellow-green spathe. Beetles and flies pollinate the tiny flowers lining the spadix. As the soil warms, the leaves emerge from the soil and eventually cover the flagging flowers. Each large, lustrous green leaf is held upright and is somewhat paddle-shaped. The foliage sometimes dies back in summer when moist ground dries but can also remain attractive into fall. Stalks of dark reddish berries can be seen 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 a large container.
The foliage and rhizome roots of American skunkcabbage are edible but must be boiled to remove the calcium oxylate toxins in them.
This species, when grown in close proximity to the white-blooming Asian skunkcabbage, will hybridize to create new plants with intermediate, variably colored flowers.
AHS Heat Zone
7 - 1
USDA Hardiness Zone
3 - 8
A3, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17
Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade
2'-3' / 0.6m - 0.9m
2'-3' / 0.6m - 0.9m
Early Spring, Spring, Late Winter
Northwestern United States, Alaska, California, Canada