« How to Plant and Care For Azaleas | Main | About Garden Chores »

My Voodoo Lily is Blooming!

One day toward the end of January I innocently opened my pantry door, and a coiled snake was staring me in the face. 

My startled gasp had barely escaped my lips and my heart had not recovered its normal rhythm, when I realized it was not a snake at all. It was my Amorphophallus konjac, AKA voodoo plant, snake lily, devil's tongue and corpse plant. All of these names are appropriate.

This is what happened: Back in the fall I had dug up the tubers of my two voodoo lilies, which live in pots out in the garden through spring and summer. After brushing the dirt off the tubers, I put them in a sack and placed them on a shelf in my pantry, with plans to replant them when new growth began in the spring. 

My excuse for owning these plants is that I did not know what I was doing when I bought them; and once I had them, it was too late. For the full story, read my old post Under the Spell of the Voodoo Plant. When I first acquired them in 2010, my voodoo plant tubers were tiny, the largest being only about the size of an almond. It takes about five years for these plants to grow to blooming size. The largest one was almost four inches across when I dug it last fall, and 2015 would be its fifth year; so I was expecting it to bloom this spring.

This is what the larger voodoo plant looked like after I rescued it from the pantry shelf. The tuber is almost four inches across. Note how wide the stalk is as it emerges.I thought the smaller one, which was about an inch smaller, could need another year.

Notice I said I thought it would bloom this spring. The reason the plant is called corpse plant is because the flower is said to smell exactly like rotting flesh. (Surely that was an exaggeration!) Because it would be out in the garden when it bloomed, I was not concerned.

The plant decided to surprise me. The smaller tuber sent up a slender stalk, which poked a hole through the plastic sack and then grew upward until it encountered the bottom of the shelf above it. It then turned sideways and reached the cabinet door, which I am sure it would have pushed open if I had not first opened it myself.

I stared in amazement at this thing. There was a swelling at the end of the coiled, spotted stalk, which could easily be interpreted as the head of a snake. I realized the plant was going to bloom.

In February. Inside my house. Oh, no.

Upon research, I discovered that Amorphophallus konjac sends up its bloom in late winter to early spring. So my plants were right on time. I untangled the tuber from the plastic sack. The larger tuber was also pushing up a stalk. It was shorter but much thicker than the other one. It was going to bloom, too.

This photo was taken February 1, about a week after I took the voodoo plants out of the pantry. The smaller tuber is still leaning dramatically to one side, but it has begun to straighten.

I transferred the tubers to a pot, and I watched anxiously as both plants grew rapidly. With space and light, the little one soon straightened itself. Its inflorescence unfurled by the second week of February.

February 7. The first bloom! Our cat Autumn checks out the smell.Powerful enough to bring tears to my eyes, the bloom had the stench of a very bad crime scene. Fortunately, we had a few warm days while it was blooming, so I was able to sit it outside during the day. We were amazed by how many tiny flies came to the plant, hunting for food but being cruelly tricked even as they did their part in pollination. At night I brought the plant inside and put it in the back part of the house where our cat Autumn stays. I made sure the door was firmly shut between that area and the main part of the house. I am not sure how Autumn felt about this arrangement. After one whiff, she kept away from the plant.

The stink persisted about a week, and then after a couple of weeks the bloom began to decline. Meanwhile, the larger plant was growing to about three feet tall with a stalk over an inch thick. Now, a month after the small one bloomed, the larger one has opened its cobra-like hood.Strange and beautiful! In the lower right image, one can see remnants of the first bloom, to the right of the stalk.

The weather, which has been freezing this week, warmed up today and will stay mild. Outside the voodoo plant goes! By the time it has finished blooming, it will be time to plant these weird plants in their summer pots. In a month or so they will send up unusual, umbrella-like leaves, which will add an exotic note to the garden.

My plants are young. In coming years the tubers could grow to a foot in diameter and send up stalks nearly six feet tall. Amorphophallus konjac is stunning in every way. What do you think? Would you forgive the stench?

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (15)

It is certainly an interesting plant. I could probably overlook the stench on the flower's first appearance, when it was small. I'm not sure I could deal with the idea of being stuck in close quarters with the 6 foot version. (And poor Autumn!) I think I'd donate it to the local botanic garden.

March 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

What an anecdote Debs and yes it is very forgivable with its exotic flower and leaves....and lucky that you saw it in time as can just imagine if it did bloom indoors! :)

March 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

I'm so happy it finally bloomed! It's pretty amazing, that the stench is real. It looks amazing, but I don't think it's a plant for me!

I giggled at snakes in the cabinet. I don't think I would want the plant just because it has to be brought in during winter. It would be fascinating to watch it mature over the years and then bloom. I can't imagine the smell...in the house. eewwww.

March 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLisa at Greenbow

What an extraordinary plant that seems to grow effortlessly!

March 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

I am glad you mentioned not knowing what you were getting because if you did it would not have been selected. At our botanical garden they had a giant one bloom this past year and it was putrid. I have to admit it is an interesting bloom, and like you mention, one to cast a spell, but never would one see its way to me!

March 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Yeah, I guess that's a plant I'd rather not own. (Never thought I'd say that.) I appreciate them, and they are beautiful, but my house is stinky enough without a Corpse Plant. (Just kidding. It's lived in, but reasonably tidy--except when we cook sauerkraut.) Several botanical research plants in town have Corpse Plants, and it's big news when they bloom. Your cat Autumn sure is a cutie! Love the photo of her sniffing the plant!

March 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

Ha, I love the picture of the cat taking a curious whiff of the plant! Such a strange, exotic looking plant. I'd love to see one in person, but I don't know about having one in the garden, as I have a very sensitive nose and that sounds like one stinky plant!

March 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

how exciting about the fascinating and unusual voodoo lily. There is one in the local Botanical Gardens and when it bloomed after a long time recently there were long queues of people wanting to see - and smell - it.

March 11, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercatmint


March 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Ah Deb, another stinking story...LOL. I love the idea of them as a gardener, [my husband is still gagging in the background] but have no plans to have one here. Definitely a inside plant, that well won't be in my collection. But your's is very pretty.


March 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJen@Muddy Boot Dreams

It looks gorgeous, and outside in the garden, yes I'd welcome it.

March 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

What a wonderful post, Deb!

Um, I would be happy to have that plant far, far away from the house.

I don't think I could deal with having it bloom indoors.

So the plants are not hardy enough to plant in ground in Alabama?

PS - As others have said, your cat is adorable :)

March 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Dalton

Hello, everybody!
Thanks for visiting my blog. I appreciate each and every comment! Aaron, voodoo lily is hardy in zones 6 thru 10, so it is hardy in Alabama. The problem is that it requires a dry dormant season. It would go dormant here; but certainly it would not stay dry, as our winters are very wet. Also, the bloom itself is not frost hardy. My plant, in the warm pantry, was sure it was spring. If it were in the ground, one would think the plant would have sense not to bloom in winter, but many plants are confused by Alabama's up and down winter temps. So even if it survived the drenching winter rains, it could send up premature blooms, only to be cut down by frost. All that is to explain why it is best just to dig and store the tubers…in a cooler place than my pantry!
Best wishes to all, Deb

March 14, 2015 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

You are a brave soul to have purchased those tubers! I've seen pix of huge voodoo lilies so you'll eventually need a much larger pot. The flower is definitely interesting but I'm not sure I could survive the smell.

March 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>