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Description

This perennial plant produces a rosette of basal leaves during the spring; these leaves reach their maximum size by early summer, and they wither away by the end of summer. The blades of these leaves are up to 2' long and 1' across; they are medium to dark green, oval or oval-ovate, smooth along the margins, and hairless. The petioles of the leaves are initially quite short, but they later become up to 1' long; these petioles are light green, stout, hairless, and concave along their inner/upper surfaces. The leaf blades have prominent veins, especially on their lower surfaces. The inflorescence consists of a spadix that is surrounded by a curved spathe; they are located near the ground. The curved spathe is about 4-6" long and half as much across; it tapers to a point at its apex. The convex outer surface of the spathe has stripes, streaks, or spots of purple and green; this surface is smooth and hairless. On one side, the spathe remains open to reveal a globoid-ovoid spadix about 2" long. This spadix is covered in all directions with small perfect flowers. Depending on the local ecotype, the spadix can be pale yellow to dark purple.  Each flower is about ¼" across, consisting of 4 pale sepals, no petals, and the reproductive organs. The inflorescence develops during early spring, before the leaves unfurl, at which time the small flowers bloom. They emit a carrion-like odor that flies can detect. The bruised foliage of this plant can produce a similar odor. The spathe soon withers away, while the spadix becomes enlarged into a compound fruit with a blocky surface. This globoid-ovoid compound fruit becomes about 4" tall and 3" across; it is initially green and dark purple, but later becomes dark brown or black as it disintegrates. The compound fruit is mature by late summer or early fall; it becomes malodorous with age. Each simple fruit contains a single large seed about 1/3" across, or a little larger. Unless the fruit is eaten or carried off by some animal, the seeds fall to the ground near the mother plant, where they often germinate. The root system consists of an elongated rootstock up to 1' long and 2-3" across; it is surrounded by a mass of thick fibrous roots. Skunk Cabbage reproduces by reseeding itself; it does not reproduce vegetatively through rhizomes. Colonies plants often develop at favorable sites.

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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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