I was surprised a few years ago when I walked into the Belle Isle Conservatory and saw this amazing-looking plant. I thought it was so cool until I got a bit closer and the smell of a dead animal that had been lying in the middle of the road in a heatwave met my nostrils. Yuck! Did you know the Amorphophallus smelled awful? Trust me, it does.
What is it?
Someone loaned the conservatory, very happily I may add, their voodoo lily (Amorphophallus konjac). The smell I think, would be too much in a home. This plant is also known as the devil’s tongue, snake palm, black lily of the Nile, and elephant yam and is native to tropical Asia, Japan, and China. In its native area, the tuber it grows from is used to make flour and jelly, and since it has no calories but is high in fiber is often used in diet foods. It has also been used for its various medicinal properties.
The Amorphophallus is in the aroid family which includes spathiphyllum lilies, anthuriums, philodendrons, and many more. The plant grows approx. 5-6 feet tall, flowers in the late winter and about a month after flowering, sends up a single leaf that will grow all summer to replenish the tuber. The flower is made up of a mottled spathe that surrounds the actual flower called the spadix. After flowering, it dies down in the fall and rests until it wakes up again the next spring. I have read that it may not flower again for years, but do not know that for sure.
Why such a horrible smell?
I was not there when the aroma was at its strongest, as it only smells bad for approximately 3 days. It has been compared to rotting flesh or roadkill on a hot summer day. Yuck! Why would a flower smell like a dead animal? Because its pollinators are flies. Read here about other plants that attract flies for pollination.
The pollination must happen the same day the spathe opens so the smell of the flower is the strongest the first day. The flowers are actually on a spadix, surrounded by a spathe. They are monoecious flowers, meaning the male and female flowers are on the same plant. The plant does not self-pollinate, though, because the male and female flowers are not open at the same time. There are warts or ridges on the spathe that trap the flies in the plant to pollinate the plant as the flowers open at different times.
Isn’t it amazing how nature works, each plant reproducing itself however it needs to, even if that means smelling like rotting flesh to attract flies to pollinate it.
It is such a cool plant and a big thank-you to the person that loaned it to the conservatory. It really was a crowd-pleaser.
Have a great week, plant friends!