Yellow Skunk Cabbage

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SKUNK CABBAGE - photo by A.P. Bekker

(Lysichitum americanum)

CAUTION - see below

History: The common name, skunk Cabbage, refers to the skunklike odor of the sap which draws flies as pollinators. "Lysichitum" combines the Greek words "lysis" meaning loosening, and "chiton" meaning tunic, in reference to the large spathe or large bract enclosing the flower cluster. The species name "americanum" means American.

Description: The spike of the Skunk Cabbage consists of minute flowers surounded by a large yellow bract open on one side. The spike grows on a stout stalk in a cluster of giant, erect leaves.

Habitat: An early spring flower which inhabits wet woods, stream banks and bogs.

Edible and medicinal value: 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. It also contains crystals of calcium oxalate. Members of the Arum family have been used throughout the world by many different native peoples. Through trial and error, they have discovered that drying or heating removes the stinging properties of these plants. Skunk Cabbage is also eaten by black bears.

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