Lysichiton americanus - Skunk cabbage; swamp lantern

Family: Araceae
Wetland Indictor Status: OBL

General Species Description

Skunk cabbage is an attractive although foul smelling plant. When the leaves or flowers are crushed it emits a decidedly skunky odor. Its yellowish green floowers appear inside a bright yellow "hood" in March. The large deep green leaves persist all year long. The roots are rhizomatous.


The leaves are up to 1.5 m long, simple, and smooth edged. They are a deep rich green with slightly lighter colored veins and midrib. They form a basal rosette around 1 or more flower spikes when in bloom.


Tiny, multiple, 4-part flowers are carried on an upright stalk. They are a pale yellowish green. The flowers are partially hidden by a bright yellow "hood" or spathe. The flowers usually appear in March and are gone by June.


The berry like fruits have 1-2 seeds and are attached to the spike. Fruits will persist after the "hood" has been shed.


Skunk cabbage is most common in forested wetlands although they will appear in meadows next to streams and lakes. Plants may grow smaller when grown in sunny areas. It is seldom solitary and can be found in patches of a hundred plants or more. It can sometimes be found in bogs. It is often found with western red cedar (Thuja plicata), vine maple (Acer circinatum), lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), and water-parsley (Oenanthe samentosa).


It is found in wetlands from Alaska to California and as far east as Montana. In Oregon it is extremely common and is likely to be found in any habitat suited to it.

Similar Species

False hellebore (Veratrum californicum var. caudatum) can be confuse with L. americanum, and has the same common name, (skunk cabbage), but the false hellebore's flowers are born on a large panicle or compound raceme. The flowers appear later in spring than the L. americanum. The leaves are blueish light green instead of dark green.

Ecological Value

The leaves and roots are eaten by deer, elk, and bear. The leaves are toxic to humans and cause temporary paralysis of the salivary glands. The flowering parts are used as food and mating sites for insects. The rhizomatous roots help prevent erosion.

Human Value

Native Americans used the leaves for food preparation, serving, storage, and lining baskets. The sap has been used to treat ringworm and the root is edible when cooked. The Winnebago and Dakota tribes used it to reduce the phlegm of asthma. It has also been recorded that it was used by various tribes as a diuretic, to induce vomiting, and as an antispasmodic. The roots and rhizomes were used to treat respiratory and nervous disorders. The Meskwakis used the root hairs to cure toothache and the bases of the leaves to dress bruises. The Menominees made a tea of the root hairs which was applied to stop external bleeding. The Micmacs tied a bunch of leaves together, crushed them, and inhaled the odor to relieve headaches. It is an attractive plant and is easily propogated from the underground stems for use in wet gardens.


A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington & Northwestern Oregon, edited by Sarah Spear Cooke, Seattle Audobon Society, 1997 -- Flora of the Pacific Northwest, Hitchcock and Cronquist, University of Washington Press, 1974 -- Earth Medicine, Earth Food, Michael A. Weiner, Collier Macmillan, 1980

This page was created by: Rose Wingenbach, August 1998

Return to Northwest Oregon Wetland Plants Project