top of page


APRIL 2021


Do you recognize this plant? It is one of the first native perennials to bloom in the spring.  If you answered “Skunk Cabbage” you’d be right!




The skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is a flowering perennial plant and is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. The flowers appear before the leaves and are characterized by a mottled maroon hoodlike leaf called a spathe, which surrounds a knob-like structure called a spadix. The spadix is actually a fleshy spike of many petal-less flowers. As the flowers mature, the spathe opens more to allow pollinators such as flies and carrion beetles to enter and pollinate the flowers.


Skunk cabbages can be found throughout eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, west to Minnesota and southeast to Tennessee and North Carolina. A similar plant, the western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) is found in California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, and British Columbia.
The skunk cabbage emerges from late February through May (depending on the region) in woodlands, wetlands, or near streams. Most animals avoid skunk cabbage because it causes a burning sensation when eaten, but bears will eat young plants in the spring as a form of natural laxative after their long slumber.  Native Americans have used it as a medicinal treatment for coughs and headaches. For a time in the 1800s, it was sold as a drug called dracontium to treat a variety of ailments.


Skunk cabbage has a remarkable ability to produce heat that allows it to emerge and bloom even when the ground is still frozen. During the winter when temperatures are freezing, the flower buds can warm up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which melts the snow around the plant. Pollinated flower heads develop berrylike fruits containing seeds, which germinate into new skunk cabbages the next growing season. Skunk cabbage leaves decay rather quickly. The leaves have high water content, so there is less plant matter to dry out and decompose. A skunk cabbage loses its leaves annually, but the plant itself can live up to 20 years.   (info obtained in part from the National Wildlife Federation)


How to Resurrect an Ugly Christmas Cactus


Many of us have a complex love-hate relationship with our Christmas Cactuses.  We love them while they’re in bloom but after a while they can become unlovely embarrassments, relegated to the far corner of our living rooms or worse!   But there is a solution and it’s so easy even the most horticulturally challenged can have success with ease. 


All you need is:

  • a pair of sharp pointed scissors or garden clips

  • a plastic pot with holes in the bottom

  • a deep saucer to hold the pot

  • 1 piece of newspaper

  • horticultural vermiculite (not the stuff they blow in your attic!)

  • rooting hormone powder (available at any Agway or garden center)


To start, first take a critical look at your plant.  If it looks healthy and not too woody you might opt just to trim it back.  Use your scissors to cut the leafy branches back at any leaf junction point.  This will encourage new growth and make the plant stronger and bushier.    If the cuttings are long enough you can also use them to start new plants to share with friends and family.  But if the center of the plant is old and woody you’ll want to start a completely new plant, so be sure that your cuttings are at least 4-5” long so you have enough to work with.  It’s best to use the newer growth and not the older woody part.


To proceed:

  • Cut a circle of newspaper and place in the bottom of your pot.  This will prevent the vermiculite from sifting out through the holes

  • Fill the pot with vermiculite to within 1” of the top.

  • Saturate the vermiculite with water by placing the pot in the sink and watering until the water comes out of the bottom.  The pot will now be MUCH heavier!

  • Select cuttings that are full and a nice shiny green

  • Dip the bottom of the cuttings in water to moisten, then in rooting powder to a depth of one inch

  • Insert the cuttings into the wet vermiculite to a depth of at least one inch and press the medium lightly to compact and hold the stem securely.

  • Place the pot in a deep saucer, place in a sunny window and keep constantly moist by adding water to the saucer as needed.  After 6-8 weeks roots should have formed.  A very gentle tug on the stem will confirm if they are ready for potting.  My plant was so delighted it even formed new flower buds in celebration!

  • Carefully remove the rooted cuttings by dumping the contents of the pot onto a work surface so as not to damage the new roots.  Prepare a fresh pot with your favorite potting medium about 2/3 full.  Arrange several cuttings around the pot and add additional potting medium to cover the roots and support the cuttings.  Water so as to settle the soil.  Put back into a sunny window and watch it grow! 


christmas cactus 3.jpg
christmas cactus 1.jpg
christmas cactus 2.jpg
dr 2 april.jpg
dr 1 april.jpg
bottom of page