Find Our Uncommon & Astonishing Plants...

Voodoo Lily

Big, colorful, and stinky? Oh yes!

Here's how to grow this hilariousy-smelly oddity:


Latin Name

Dracunculus vulgaris

Common Name

Voodoo lily

Family

Araceae, the Arum family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy bulb.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9

Habit

Upright, with a few narrowly-palmate leaves around the single stem, from which arises the solitary flower.

Rate of Growth

Fast—like a typical bulb earlier in the Spring.  One day the ground is still bare, and the next, seemingly, there' s a sprout a foot tall and then taller.

Size in ten years

A clump about two feet wide and tall.

Texture

Vaguely tropical: the softly-variegated palmate leaves have narrow fingers, and are unusual enough to "not look typical for around here," no matter where "here" is.  The alarmingly large, colorful, and foetidly-fragrant flowers are completely out-of-character with the foliage—as well as, likely, with everything else in your garden, too.  This plant is gleefully disruptive in every aspect. 

Grown for

the palmate foliage is very appealing in itself, but it's completely upstaged by the flowers.  Each of these has a very long (up to a foot) spathe the color of bloody meat, like the raucous-hussy version of a calla lily, that only makes more obvious the blushingly-erotic brown spadix along its centerline—think, now that I think of it, of a mega-length of beef jerky.  And then, during the day, when it's hot enough, the smell, the true stench of it.  You'll wonder if you'd forgotten to get the septic system checked out like you were supposed to.  It's the smell of something that flies would be very interested in—which, indeed, they are, as one of the voodoo lily's prime pollinators.

Flowering season

Early Summer: late June in Rhode Island. 

Culture

Dracunculus are Summer-dormant; after they flower, they collapse quickly, and are gone by the end of the month.  This fits their Mediterranean origin, which means, in part, that these are plants that thrive on plentiful rain in the cooler months, and are prudently below ground in case Summer promises to be, as in their Meditteranean homelands, a bone-dry scorcher.  Fortunately for gardeners in climates where Summers can be rainy, too, Dracunculus are as flexible as oriental poppies when it comes to warm-weather moisture.  They'll stay dormant for the rest of the season regardless.

Rich soil with decent drainage and plenty of water up until July seems to be the ticket. 

How to handle it

Plant in full sun or part shade; the bulbs are sold dormant and can be planted from mid-Summer through early Fall.  Mulch heavily the first Winter, especially if you can't get the bulbs into the ground until the Fall.  So as not to be left with their bare spot all Summer long, plant lower plants in front of them, and plant them amid a low groundcover—say, vinca or galium—that the vertical stems can thrust up through easily.

It's probably best to have these wierdos fairly close to the front of the bed so first-timers can be sure that the awful smell is, yup, really coming right from those scary flowers right there.

Downsides

The plant's brief performance above-ground—barely six or eight weeks—means that Dracunculus will be one of your garden's ephemeral shockers.  On the other hand, brevity is the only thing that makes the stench tolerable, even humorous.

Variants

There are several other Dracunculus species.  One, D. canariensis is white-spathed and sweetly-scented; what's the point of that?  Upping the ante considerably on the the creepy repulsiveness of D. vulgaris, D. medinensis and D. insignis aren't plants at all, but disgusting, painful, and potentially fatal nemitode parasites of humans as well as animals.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

Division in early Summer after the plants have gone dormant.  From seed as well, although I never notice that my colony forms seeds.  It's not from lack of attention from local flies, believe me.

Native habitat

Greece and the Balkans.

 
 
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