There is something strangely elegant about these bizarre flowers. This one was rather a late bloomer; most of the other plants in this patch along the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel had long since bloomed and grown substantial leaves.
The odd flowers of Skunk Cabbage push their way up from the muck in late winter. If there’s snow, they will melt their way through it: they actually produce heat to bore a hole through snow cover. The name comes from the foul odor of the leaves when crushed; the brown mottling of the flowers resembles rotting meat, which attracts the earliest flies of the season.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
SYMPLOCÁRPUS Salisb. SKUNK CABBAGE. Stamens 4, opposite the sepals, with at length rather slender filaments; anthers extrorse, 2-celled, opening lengthwise. Style 4-angled and awl-shaped; stigma small. Ovule solitary, suspended, anatropous. Fruit a globular or ovoid mass, composed of the enlarged and spongy spadix, inclosing the spherical seeds just beneath the surface, which is roughened with the persistent fleshy sepals and pyramidal styles.— Perennial herb, with a strong odor like that of the skunk, and also somewhat alliaceous; a very thick rootstock, and a cluster of very large and broad entire veiny leaves, preceded in earliest spring by the nearly sessile spathes, which barely rise out of the ground. (Name from symploke, connection, and karpos, fruit, in allusion to the coalescence of the ovaries into a compound fruit.)
S. foétidus (L.) Nutt. Leaves ovate, cordate, becoming 3-6 dm. long, short-petioled; spathe spotted and striped with purple and yellowish-green, ovate, incurved. (Spathyema Raf.)—Bogs and moist grounds, N. S. to N. C, w. to Ont., Minn., and Ia.