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Under the Spell of the Voodoo Plant

Did I make a mistake?

First, I should explain the two ways I choose plants for my garden.

Number One: I wander around my garden, noticing gaps and identifying needs. I then browse plant catalogues, as well as search through my garden books and magazines. I list plants that could fit my criteria. I research their light, soil, and water requirements. I make sure they will grow in my 7b hardiness zone. I think about how they will complement their plant neighbors. I consider their growth patterns. How big will this plant get? How does it spread? Will it become invasive? I always look for beautiful foliage and hope the plant will have pretty flowers, too. Sweet fragrance is a wonderful plus. It had better be low maintenance. Finally, I choose the one that appeals to me, and then I go outside and look again. I may place an object, a rake or a bucket or something with the same general shape and size, in the potential planting spot. Will it really look good there? If the answer is yes, then I hunt for the plant, preferably locally. Sometimes I order via catalogue or on line, but I always get a larger plant for a better price from local sources. Then, at last, I plant it. This whole process can take months or longer.

It may work, or it may not.

Number two method: I am not in the market for a plant, but I happen to spy one somewhere. Oh, I love it! I must have it! I buy it and bring it home. I don't know a thing about it, and I have no idea where I will put it.

This also may work, or it may not.

I used method number 2 when I recently acquired a Voodoo Plant at Carol Washington's garden party. I wrote about her garden in my last post, A Southern Garden Party. I was captivated by the plant because of its stem, which is patterned like snakeskin and feels eerily like human flesh. Another common name is Snake Lily.I brought the plant home and later did some research on it. 

The botanical name is Amorphophallus konjac. It's an exotic perennial which is hardy in zones 5 to 9, though it doesn't like wet winters and may do better if the corms are dug, shaken free of soil, and stored in a cool, dry place for the winter. They will also do well in a pot and can be grown indoors.

Maybe I will grow mine outside in a pot.

It likes high humidity and heat.

That's me!

It grows in shade to filtered sun.

That's fine. Sounds like the woodland garden will be my plant's new home.

It likes moist soil during the growing season and should be watered weekly. Plants in the ground should be fertilized in June and August. Potted plants should be fed monthly. Any general fertilizer is okay to use, but for best corm development the fertilizer should be high in phosphorus and potash. A good tomato fertilizer will work. 

None of this is a problem, and I was congratulating myself on finding a great new plant. Then I started reading more. The leaves at the top of the stem are actually leaflets, part of one giant, umbrella-like leaf, which can grow to two feet wide or larger. The round, spotted stem may grow over four feet tall. By now I realized I had, not one, but two plants in my pot!

This sounds great! I was smiling.

After several years mature corms will send up a hooded bloom in spring.

It blooms! This is getting better and better!

And then I read more about that bloom. The inflorescence is a large maroon, lascivious thing. The plant has another name: Devil's Tongue. It smells like a rotting corpse — another name: Corpse Plant! The foul odor attracts flies and other pollinators. The smell is so bad that in its native Southeast Asia people have been known to faint from the stench. It is said to be the most stinky plant on earth.

So there I have it, a plant whose putrid bloom will have my neighbors calling the cops to look for dead bodies. And I have two of them! Carol Washington, was your lack of full disclosure on purpose, or, like me, are you just another gardener under the spell of the Voodoo Plant?

If I had known, would I still have brought it into my garden? Most certainly. Yes. Of course I would! I like the weird and wonderful. And the Voodoo Plant only blooms for a few days. I don't think it will be that bad. But if I see the vultures circling over my garden, I will go take a sniff. I will carry a gas mask with me just in case. If I have to use it, I will cut the bloom off and bury it under two feet of compost...or maybe I won't!


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Reader Comments (20)

I can't wait to read your post when it actually blooms, good thing we don't have smellovision.

I loved reading your planting thought processes and started to get all excited about your new acquisition .... until the bloom part. Eeeeww. I, too, want to read your post when this is in your woodland garden and flowering!

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Oh dear, that sounds exactly like me! Number 2, that is;) Surprisingly how it works out well, so often:) What an unusual plant you found at that garden party! However, I do not thing it would enjoy swedish cold wheather.
Take care,

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMadame C

My first thought was to pot it so that the stems would be most visible - maybe on your front porch or something. Then I read your funny comments about the smell. Um, well let us know what you do with it. I would be interested to know where you put it.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

They have a huge Amorphophallus at the Fairchild Gardens in Coral Gables that they call Mr. Stinky. It is Amorphophallus Titanum. Check out the pics of this plant.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersanddune

How fabulously brave of you Deb! It's funny that you just got one of these plants. A similar plant, in the same genus, Amorphophallus titanum (Titan Arum), just bloomed in Berkeley, CA a couple of weeks ago. Here's a link to the article in the paper:


There's a great wiki page about Titan Arum too, with lovely photos. It looks like the blooms on your Voodoo lily won't be as large, but otherwise will have some very similar characteristics. Such a fascinating group of plants. Just not sure about them attracting carrion flies :P

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

Oh Deborah that is such a famous plant. I think it would be fascinating to watch this grow and finally flower. I know that ehow on youtube have some videos on how to grow it aswell. What a talking piece you've got in your garden now to tell all your visitors about.

Have a lovely weekend :) Rosie

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

The voodoo lily is such a fun plant! I have to say method #2 is the only one I follow. Wish I could follow that first method, but I did note that your results are the same regardless. : )

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFloridagirl

I've heard of that plant! lol. I think it would be a really interesting plant to have, despite it's dead-body smelling blooms lol.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKyna

It sure did sound perfect up until the corpse part :) I guess worst case you could cut off the bloom. It is a really nice looking plant and I hope when it does bloom you'll show it how it looks.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Snow? Oh yes, in winter we have snow-capped mountains. But it stays, up there, where it is eye candy!

July 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterelephant's eye

What a great plant, except for the smelly part :( Take picures when it is blooming. I must admit I too, use option 2 to pick plants.

July 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte Snyder

Deb, you are funny and brave! The smell and the flys - don't flys make maggots? You will have to let us know and show us the picture of the flower, maybe it is worth it LOL

July 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGloria Bonde

I'm still giggling at "Amorphophallus." Seems somewhat oxymoronic. Isn't gardening fun?

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

This plant fascinates me...although the reports of the stinky smell keep me from purchasing one. The bloom looks amazing in my gardening books.

I, too, prescribe to method 2, although occasionally attempt method 1. Method 2 works because you MUST plant what you like!!

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkimberly

I would fall under the spell of this plant! As much as I try to research, buy native, and plan my garden ... most of it is completely spontaneous! I also can't say no to people who give me plants! Wish you could post that smell once it blooms - just out of curiosity.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterthevioletfern

I want a stinky rotting flesh plant. I want a dozen, actually!

You may have steered me towards my first ever flower.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Idiot Gardener

I'm laughing! I've seen them pop up from time to time at various wholesale growers around here and I always thought they were kind of cool looking. If it's any consolation, the horticulturists around here are saying that the small lasts at most one day. Our Corpse Flower Lois (yes, it's named) at the Cockrell Butterfly Center hasn't bloomed yet and all the plant people in the city are on pins and needles. The rest of the people here think we are all crazy!
Love your post and now must go carefully consider your hydrangeas.

July 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Barrow

i have voodoo plants growing in my garden quite large ones and all are purple fflowering they are beautiful but omg they stink!!!!!!!
but i love them as they are such a different plant , mine get neglected and are left to fend for themselves all year and they keep comming back every year bigger and better the main stem on one is almost two inches across

May 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

found your post and read it and kinda thought it was funny because we had NO idea as well as to just HOW STINKY this plant STUNK as well. we've had ours since about 1994, because i think it bloomed in about late season 1995 or early for 1996 for some reason not sure... my husband had just had bad surgery and i was out in the back yard checkin out the other plants and greenhouse and rooting bed and kept smelling this so DEAD smell but never found the DEAD what ever. thinking the cats might have brought us a gift and just dropped it off somewhere in the yard 3/4 of an acre. but i looked and looked. then i saw the flies a buzzing around this plant. OMG!! i had to get hubby outta bed (with a pain pill of course) and bring him outside. we had no clue as to what this plant did until that year. but we would not get rid of it at all.. after all these years. his grandmother had some and split them up among the family quite a few of us. and my hubby got some hi mom and like 8 others and we are the only ones and his mom to have any left. the aunt keeps want to get some of ours and we wont split them up because she thought hers was dead from the winter and tossed her to the burn pile... and that was it. so anyhow they stink just only like every 2 yrs or so.. but they are kinda pretty in a ODD sortta way... :O)

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterhazzydebs

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