In a gardening week characterized by the lush perfume of peonies, in Neil Tatum’s Chatmoss yard it’s the unbearable stench of the konjac voodoo lily that fills the air.
The voodoo lily smells like rotting meat, because it is pollinated by flies. Other common names for it include corpse flower and love lily, dragon arum and devil’s tongue,
The 45-inch flower-like structure comes straight up from the ground on a dark spotted petiole which opens up into a purplish-black spathe (think of a calla lily). Rising up from the spathe (a sheathing bract) is a tall purple spadix. If you’re familiar with Latin root words, its scientific name, Amorphophallus konjac, helps you imagine it. (“Amorpho” means “deformed,” and you can guess the rest.)
“The plant will really get you blushing at maturity, when it presents its fascinating 5-6-foot purple brown spathe and spadix flower,” reads the description by Avant Gardens in Darthmouth, Mass.
Tatum’s konjac voodoo lily is in bloom for the first time since he planted it seven years ago, he said. A single, tropical-looking divided leaf appears on a lone leaf stalk around July.
Although it’s informally called a flower, the bloom technically is an inflorescence. The bottom of the spadix has pistils (female flowers), with a zone of stamens (male flowers) above them, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Master Gardener Program.
Konjac voodoo lily is an arum from southeast Asia, according to Cistus Nursery of Portland, Ore., on plantlust.com. In its homeland it is cultivated for its edible tuber.
“Do not put this below your bedroom window,” the description from Secret Garden Growers on plantlust.com states in reference to the strong smell.
It’s possible to enjoy this unique plant without the stink, according to Cistus Nursery: Rinsing the flower down will wash off the smell.
The plant can reach 6 feet tall in part sun to shade with regular summer water and is cold-hardy to USDA Zone 6, according to Cistus Nursery.
The konjac voodoo lily is in the same family as the well known corpse flower Amorphophallus titanium, which make news when specimens bloom in plant collections around the United States. Chicago Botanic Garden has several corpse flowers, but blooms are rare, according to the botanic garden’s website. In nature, the Amorphophallus titanium can grow up tup 6 to 8 feet, and the leave can grow 8 to 15 feet tall.
When one of Chicago Botanic Garden’s Amorphophallus titanium goes into bloom, 75,000 people come to see it, the website states.