Who Knew A Plant Could be so Wicked?

June 23, 2016


Skunk cabbage (photo courtesy of Sue Sweeney)

At the Division of Plant Industry, an important part of our mission is to protect Florida’s natural landscape.  And while we recognize not all plants are nice, we can share information about those that are considered “wicked,” due sometimes to the mere fact that they stink!

For example, have you ever heard of a skunk cabbage (Synplocarpus foetidus)? It’s a cabbage that smells like the name says, like a skunk. Located in the wetland areas in eastern parts of North America, the skunk cabbage is best known as a thermogenic plant meaning it produces its own heat. This process takes place over a 12 to 14 day period where the flower is blooming and its bloom breaks down substances. During this cycle, the flower uses a combination of oxygen and starches from its root system to produce the energy required for heat.

It should be noted that this is not a plant you play with. When trampled or bruised, the plant emits a foul smell as a natural deterrent from predators. Ingesting this plant can cause, swelling, choking sensations, and a burning sensation in the mouth. Excessive consumption may result in death.

If you want to learn more about the skunk cabbage and other wicked plants, visit The Florida Museum of Natural History: Wicked Plants: The Exhibit will be on display between now and January 15, 2017. The exhibit is based off the entertaining book “Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities” by Amy Stewart.

An interactive interface is available for students of all ages to learn about dangerous plants. “The challenge for the museum is to use Wicked Plants to grab visitor’s attention, then turn it into curiosity about all plants, the toxic and the terrific,” says, Patti J. Anderson, Ph.D., chief botanist with the Division of Plant Industry.

For more information on this event and others held by the museum please visit the museum’s exhibits page.


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