Skunk cabbage is blooming in Indiana. Here's what you need to know.

What the Heck is Skunk Cabbage?

Its scientific name is Symplocarpus foetidus, although to most it is known simply as skunk cabbage. This odiferous plant gets its name from the offputting smell that it gives off. While attractive to pollinators, the aroma acts as a deterrent to protect the plant from animals.

The flowers appear before the leaves and are characterized by a mottled maroon hoodlike leaf called a spathe, which surrounds a knob-like structure called a spadix. The spadix is actually a fleshy spike of many petal-less flowers. As the flowers mature, the spathe opens more to allow pollinators such as flies and carrion beetles to enter and pollinate the flowers. - National Wildlife Federation

What Makes Skunk Cabbage Special?

Skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to bloom for the growing season. The flowering perennial often pushes through the ground as early as February. In addition to being an early riser for the spring season, skunk cabbage is one of the few thermogenic plants, meaning the plants metabolically generate their own heat - often the inside of a skunk cabbage plant is twenty degrees warmer than the outside air temperature.

Skunk cabbage is one of just a few plants that exhibit thermogenesis, or the ability to metabolically generate heat, by cyanide resistant cellular respiration. Since it can bloom while there is still snow and ice on the ground, the spadix can generate temperatures on average 20 degrees warmer inside the spathe than the surrounding air temperature for nearly two weeks, even keeping the temperature constant and optimal for flower maturation and pollination. - University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Can You Eat Skunk Cabbage?

While skink cabbage can be eaten, there is some preparation that must first go into it. Eating skunk cabbage raw can cause burning in the mouth due to its high concentration of calcium oxalate crystals.

<p>The Skunk Cabbage is edible but has a concentration of crystals of calcium oxalate which can produce a stinging, burning sensation in the mouth when chewed raw. By roasting and drying the root, native Americans were able to use this plant. The young green leaves can be eaten but must be boiled in several changes of water. Even these repeated boilings may not remove its stinging properties. The Skunk Cabbage is related to taro, the staple food of the Polynesians. - UDSA </p><p> </p>

Skunk Cabbage Benefits

Aside from providing an early spring meal for pollinators, skunk cabbage has some medicinal value. Many indigenous tribes used the root of skunk cabbage for a number of medicinal purposes, according to Cornell University. In the 1800s, the plant was used to make a medicine known as "dracontium," according to Huron-Clinton Metro Parks.

<p> </p><p>While the eastern skunk cabbage is fairly toxic to humans, causing nausea, dizziness, and vomiting when consumed raw, indigenous peoples would prepare the plant to aid in easing muscle spasms or as an expectorant to clear excess mucus from airways. From 1820 to 1882, skunk cabbage was used in the medicine “dracontium” advertised as a treatment for respiratory conditions, neurological disorders, rheumatism, and dropsy. - MetroParks.com</p>

 

Of course, wild flora should not be consumed without extensive knowledge and study.

Where to Find Skunk Cabbage in Indiana

Skunk cabbage grows in Indiana in areas that are shaded, wet, and mucky - think bogs, marshes, and wetlands. Indiana Nature says the plant grows primarily in the northern two-thirds of the Hoosier State.

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