Lysichiton americanus, also called western skunk cabbage (US), yellow skunk cabbage (UK),[2] American skunk-cabbage (Britain and Ireland)[3] or swamp lantern,[4] is a plant found in swamps and wet woods, along streams and in other wet areas of the Pacific Northwest, where it is one of the few native species in the arum family.

Lysichiton americanus
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Alismatales
Family: Araceae
Genus: Lysichiton
L. americanus
Binomial name
Lysichiton americanus
  • Lysichitum americanum (L.) Schott, orth. var.

The plant is called skunk cabbage because of the distinctive "skunky" odor that it emits when it blooms. This odor will permeate the area where the plant grows, and can be detected even in old, dried specimens. The distinctive odor attracts its pollinators, scavenging flies and beetles.

Although similarly named and with a similar smell, the plant is easy to distinguish from the eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), another species in the arum family found in eastern North America. A cross between it and a closely related species from Japan, also called "skunk cabbage" but less malodorous, is grown as an ornamental plant on the margins of British aquatic gardens.


Flower detail
Foliage of L. americanus

The plant grows from rhizomes that measure 30 centimetres (12 inches) or longer, and 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in) in diameter. The short-stalked leaves are the largest of any native plant in the region, 30–150 cm (12–59 in) long and 10–70 cm (4–27+12 in) wide when mature. Its flowers are produced in a spadix contained within a 7–12 cm (3–4+12 in) large, bright yellow or yellowish green spathe atop a 30–50 cm (12–20 in) stalk. The flowers are numerous and densely packed. It is among the first flowers to bloom in late winter or early spring[4][5][6] (typically March–July).[7] Unlike the genus Symplocarpus (which includes S. foetidus, the eastern skunk cabbage), the flowers of Lysichiton species do not produce heat,[8] although this is widely and incorrectly said to be the case.[9]



Lysichiton americanus is found from Kodiak Island and Cook Inlet, Alaska south through British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California as far south as Santa Cruz County. Isolated populations are also found in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.[10][11]

The plant was introduced into cultivation in the United Kingdom in 1901 and has escaped to become naturalized in marshy areas in Britain and Ireland, for example in Hampshire and Surrey, including Wisley Gardens, and in the north and west of the UK.[12] Once established in an area, it can be very difficult to control.[13] In 2016, it was classified by the European Union as an invasive species.[14] This implies that this species cannot be imported, cultivated, transported, commercialized, planted, or intentionally released into the environment in the whole of the European Union.[15]



It was used as an ornamental garden plant in Britain and Ireland, where it grows well in marshy conditions. As of 2018, the Royal Horticultural Society recommends that it should not be cultivated.[16]

Hybrids with Lysichiton camtschatcensis, called Lysichiton × hortensis, are also cultivated. These have larger spathes than either of the parent species.[12]



Flies are drawn by the odour to pollinate the flowers.[7]

While some consider the plant to be a weed, deer may browse the leaves, and its roots are food for American black bears. After emerging from hibernation, bears eat it as a laxative or cathartic.[17]



The plant was used by indigenous people as medicine for burns and injuries, and in times of famine as an emergency food source, when the leaves were heated and eaten. The leaves have a somewhat spicy or peppery taste.[17]

Although the plant was not part of human diet under normal conditions, its large, waxy leaves were important to food preparation and storage. They were commonly used to line berry baskets and to wrap around whole salmon and other foods when baked under a fire.[17][7]

The leaves were also used as a medicated bandage to cure sores and swelling.[citation needed] Its sap was used as a treatment for ringworm.[7]



The plant contains calcium oxalate crystals, which result in a prickling sensation on the tongue and throat[17] and can cause intestinal irritation; if consumed in large quantities it can even cause death.

See also

  • Calla palustris (bog arum): A similar plant grown as an ornamental herbaceous perennial.


  1. ^ Maiz-Tome, L. (2016). "Lysichiton americanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T64317583A67730052. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T64317583A67730052.en. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  2. ^ RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. UK: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  3. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  4. ^ a b Klinkenberg, Brian, ed. (2014). "Lysichiton americanus". E-FLORA BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia.
  5. ^ Giblin, David, ed. (2015). "Lysichiton americanus". Burke Museum ( WTU Herbarium Image Collection. University of Washington. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  6. ^ "Lysichiton americanus". Jepson Herbarium; eFlora: Taxon page. Berkeley, CA: University of California, Berkeley. 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  7. ^ a b c d Spellenberg, Richard (2001) [1979]. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. Vol. Western Region (rev. ed.). Knopf. pp. 344–345. ISBN 978-0-375-40233-3 – via Internet Archive (
  8. ^ Halevy, Abraham H. (23 July 2019). Handbook of Flowering. Vol. VI. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. p. 421. ISBN 9781351081030.
  9. ^ See as one example "Lysichiton americanus". Learn 2 Grow. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
  10. ^ Sullivan, Steven K. (2015). "Lysichiton americanus". Wildflower Search. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  11. ^ "Lysichiton americanus". PLANTS Database. Natural Resources Conservation Service. United States Department of Agriculture. 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  12. ^ a b Armitage, James D. & Phillips, Barry W. (2011). "A hybrid swamp lantern". The Plantsman. New Series. 10 (3): 155–157.
  13. ^ Almanzor, Elijah (2018). "American Skunk-Cabbage Lysichiton americanus". In Fennell, Mark; Jones, Laura; Wade, Max (eds.). Practical Management of Invasive Non-Native Weeds in Britain and Ireland. Liverpool University Press. pp. 1–3. doi:10.2307/j.ctv34h08r7. JSTOR j.ctv34h08r7.6.
  14. ^ "List of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern". European Commission. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  15. ^ "REGULATION (EU) No 1143/2014". European parliament and of the council of 22 October 2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species. 22 October 2014.
  16. ^ "Lysichiton americanus". RHS Plant Selector. UK: Royal Horticultural Society. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  17. ^ a b c d Fagan, Damian (2019). Wildflowers of Oregon: A field guide to over 400 wildflowers, trees, and shrubs of the coast, cascades, and high desert. Guilford, CT: FalconGuides. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-4930-3633-2. OCLC 1073035766.