Adams County Master Gardner
smell of rotting meat is not a scent most of us prefer
to have in our gardens or homes. However, there is a
unique group of people who enjoy growing strange
plants, and are probably familiar with the common name
of an exotic bulb, voodoo lily. It is from the genus
Amorphophallus, and consists of plants typically found
in Asia and Africa. Many are known to generate a
characteristic bad odor to attract flies, which
provide a necessary pollination service.
The plant is just plain weird.
Last February, my voodoo bulbs were blooming away in
the basement, and I expect the same this year. The
leafy foliage died off in the fall, so most stayed
safely in the ground till spring, and those in clay
pots came to the basement for the winter. The bulbs
can stay in the pots, but mine needed transplanted, so
I removed them and put them in a brown paper bag.
Starting in January, a stalk quickly grew from the
bulb to over 5 feet tall, including a 24-inch bloom.
The appearance of the voodoo
flower is striking. If you think of a beautiful,
graceful calla lily for a moment, this is its creepy
cousin. It has a giant tongue (spadix) wrapped in a
half-vase (spathe) that is the most evil shade of
purple youíve ever seen. If the bloom sees sunlight,
it will give off the characteristic foul odor that
will get your family dog searching the house for
something dead. Best advice: keep it in the dark.
Donít expose it to any kind of light or be prepared to
move it to the garage where it will be less offensive.
Otherwise, it will draw into your heating and
ventilation system. The ability to produce such a
large bloom with no light, water, or soil nutrients is
In spring, the mature voodoos
that wintered outside will bloom when the ground
warms, or not, if they donít feel like it. These will
definitely smell because of the exposure to sunlight.
It took our landscapers half a morning to figure out
the location of the stench at our house. Oops, forgot
to tell them. The flower dies off and eventually a
small herbaceous plant shoots up that looks like a
small palm tree. It has no odor and makes a pleasant
green addition to your garden. In the fall, the older
plants produce a cluster of brilliant orange berries
that is truly spectacular, the third form of this odd
Native plants are still my
preference for trees, shrubs, and perennials around
the house, but itís fun to try exotics in containers.
Because of the odor, it is best to keep them in the
ground outside. If your basement stays dark, they will
bloom and you might not even know it. The species I
grow, Amorphophyllus konjac, can survive a Zone 6
winter. I even found a catalog with other less hardy
species and have begun trying them in containers
outside for summertime. In pots, you can pick them up
and move them as needed. I call it Ďmobileí gardening.
They make great conversation pieces. Just donít invite
dinner guests during their stinky phase.
Read other articles on house plants
articles by Bobbi Little