Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage, Vancouver Island, BC
Skunk Cabbage, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Bud Logan

A skunk scented perennial plant up to 50 cm tall, it is a member of the arum family. It has large, cabbage-like leaves, surrounding a bright yellow flower along with a disagreeable smell. (I kinda like it though) The large tuberous rootstock produces fleshy roots and heart-shaped, cabbage-like leaves on thick leafstalks. Numerous small, purple flowers grow on a small, oval, fleshy spike covered by a purple and yellowish-green, hood.

Flowering time is from February to April before the leaves appear. The whole plant emits a skunk or garlic odor.

The unusual reddish-green blooms of skunk cabbage are among the first wildflowers to appear in spring. February to May. The temperature within the flower is often 20 degrees c. higher than the ambient air, if the flower is covered in snow, the heat will melt it. Marginally edible at best, skunk cabbage contains calcium oxalate crystals, which cause the most unpleasant burning sensation of the mouth and tongue. Boiling doesn’t dispel this quality. The plant has far more uses medicinally.

It is edible though and has been eaten throughout the centuries during times of famine.

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