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Skunk Cabbage: The giant plant that's causing a stink

Posted: Thursday 27th July 2017 by RiverSearch

If you go for a walk in the woods close to a stream in Spring there is a chance you will come across some mighty Yellow flowers growing up in a spike and giving off a strong odour like a skunk. This is the non native skunk cabbage which loves our wet woodlands.

 Like many other invasive species, skunk cabbage is very successful at taking over where it grows and its huge leaves can smother out other plants growing on the woodland floor.

Skunk Cabbage was originally brought to the UK from the United States as an ornamental garden plant and until only recently was still sold in garden centres. The first record of skunk cabbage growing in the wild in the UK was actually in Haslemere, Surrey and will likely have jumped over someone’s garden wall and out into the nearest stream. Haslemere holds the headwaters of both the Wey and Arun river catchments and the plant is now present in many of the woodlands around these small streams.

Habitat Description: American skunk cabbage will grow in swamps, wet woodlands, along streams and rivers, lakesides, ponds, boggy and other wet areas from 0-1400m altitude. It can grow in most soils as long as they are wet. It can tolerate fluctuating water levels, shade or full sunlight and temperatures as low as -15°C.

Dispersal: American skunk cabbage spreads naturally over several tens of metres from the parent plant. Natural dispersal occurs by the transportation of berries and seeds by birds and mammals and by water when plants occur on the edges of water bodies. The plant can also reproduce from rhizome and stems which can be transported naturally or unintentionally by machinery and by fly tipping of garden waste.

Impact on native habitats: American skunk cabbage, after a few years of growth, can build a dense layer excluding light from native species causing species displacement and a reduction in overall biodiversity. It can become particularly problematic in damp woodlands where rarer mosses and lichens are out-competed for light. Populations have been documented to clog ponds and ditches in Scotland.

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