Incredibly Smelly Plants and the Gardeners Who Love Them

corpse flower

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Unit

Two of my most esteemed gardening goddess friends recently posted doting accounts on social media about the blooming of their cherished Voodoo Lilies. Amorphophallus bulbifer, belongs to a genus which includes some 170 tropical and subtropical tuberous herbaceous plants of the Arum family.

The meaning of its botanical name itself is somewhat unlovely. “Amorphophallus” comes from the Latin for “deformed phallus.”

Also known as “corpse flower,” it exudes the stench of rotting flesh. This is practical, if you –like Amorphophallus — need flies to pollinate and ensure the survival of your kind. And if — like Amorphophallas — you only produce one flower each season, that stank had better be potent.

When each Amorphophallus plant produces its single flower, that flower releases its “scent” for only a day or two, before withering and falling from the plant. After an indefinite time of rest, the tuber will produce a single leaf, which is reportedly deer resistant. The plant is not cold hardy. Those who love them must nurse the tuber indoors through the winter, in order to enjoy the next inflorescence in the late spring. That flowering, when it comes, grows quickly into an enormous priapic bloom, sometimes four to six feet long. The smell has been described by many sources as resembling that of a mouse several days dead.

There are very large varieties of these “carrion plants”. Some have tubers that weigh in excess of 100 pounds and grow more than 6 feet tall. Those are the ones that may be worth a special visit to a conservatory or greenhouse, and when the word gets out that one is about to bloom, lines can form like those for a Disney ride. But a careful home gardener can buy a tuber for a smaller or even dwarf variety, for a more personalized stench experience. It can take several years for a new tuber to mature to flowering size. In its home in the Indonesian rain forest, a plant may take ten years to bloom. In the meantime, it can be kept as a low-light house plant.

Amorphophallus is not vulnerable to the usual garden pests, but is toxic to pets and people. However, with careful preparation, it has been used by humans as food in time of famine.

The tuber of one variety of Amorphaphallas, konjac, is used to make a thickening agent in traditional Japanese cuisine, called konnyaku.

My friends presently exalting in the exquisite odors of their very own voodoo lilies are much to be admired, or even envied. But I will console myself with the fact that one may watch the annual opening of famous corpse flowers in real time on Amazon. Maybe I’ll unearth a dead mouse to keep me company.

3 thoughts on “Incredibly Smelly Plants and the Gardeners Who Love Them

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