Humboldt’s Original Skunk Weed

The smelly and brightly-colored flowers of skunk cabbage.
The smelly and brightly-colored flowers of skunk cabbage.

It smells a little skunky along the trail. Did a fellow hiker light up a joint ahead of you or it could be a botanical wonder of the coast redwoods and beyond?!

Skunk cabbage emerges early in the year in swampy lowland regions of the coast redwood forest. It is known scientifically as Lysichiton americanus and the Greek meaning of the name is “loose tunic” which refers to the yellow hood (spathe) that cups the flower stalk (spadix). If you bring your nose close to the flower you will smell a repulsive stench! This odor attracts small flies that pollinate the plant.

The flowers get lots of attention, but the leaves of skunk cabbage are impressive and deserving in their own right because of their sheer size. Have you seen skunk cabbage this spring?

Huge leaves of skunk cabbage dwarf the pungent flowers.
Huge leaves of skunk cabbage dwarf the pungent flowers.

If you want to plan your own trip to the redwoods to sniff for Lysichiton, visit our Redwoods Finder for more information.

I recommend viewing this skunky plant along the James Irvine Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park or on the Skunk Cabbage Trail in Redwood National Park.



About the author

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

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2 Responses to “Humboldt’s Original Skunk Weed”

  1. Emily Burns

    Thank you, M. D. Vaden, for sharing these Skunk Cabbage habitats! I look forward to checking them out.

  2. M. D. Vaden

    A few other patches I like include the north side of the Fern Canyon Loop where the Skunk Cabbage aka Swamp Lanterns are near the short boardwalk style bridges. Also Elk Prairie trail, a few spots along Howland Hill Rd. in Jedediah Smith redwoods, and the Davison road from Highway 101 to Gold Bluffs Beach. The Davison road patches seem especially nice, although they are among Spruce trees if I recall.


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