Although the American skunk-cabbage often has separate male and female flowers, hermaphroditic flowers can also occur (3) (4) (5) (7). The flowers appear in the spring (2) (3) (4) (5) (7) (8), before the plant’s leaves appear (3) (4), and are pollinated by beetles and flies which are attracted by the flowers’ distinctive, pungent odour (3) (4) (7) (8).
The American skunk-cabbage’s green berries are produced in the summer months. Once the berries are ripe, the spadix withers and most of the seeds fall to the ground around the parent plant. However, if the plant is growing by running water the seeds may be dispersed downstream, and in this species’ native range they are also likely to be dispersed by birds, small mammals and bears (2) (3) (4) (5). The seeds of the American skunk-cabbage can remain viable in the soil for six to eight years or more (4) (7).
In general, the American skunk-cabbage only begins to flower and fruit at around two to three years old (7), and individual plants may not flower every year (4). This species grows slowly and can form dense patches that may survive for up to 80 years (3) (4) (7). In addition to reproducing sexually by producing seeds, the American skunk-cabbage can also regenerate from its rhizomes and stems (3) (7).
The tissues of the American skunk-cabbage contain calcium oxalate, a caustic chemical which may help to protect the plant from herbivorous animals. If eaten by humans, this chemical can make the mouth burn (6). However, the American skunk-cabbage has sometimes been used by Native Americans for food in times of famine, as well as for its medicinal properties (3) (8).