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Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

Uh-oh, something has died near my vegetable raised beds. The odor is unmistakable. I gingerly search around the edges of the beds and along the fence for the source. Then it occurs to me, I’ll bet my voodoo lily is blooming. Sure enough, off to the side and a short distance down the path Voodoo (Amorphophallus konjac) is in full bloom and sending its signature scent to entice its favored pollinators, flies and beetles, to attend to it.

I did think to site it quite a distance away from the screened porch but forgot that during its bloom time, tomatoes will also need planting. The rotting smell only lasts a few days though and then it is safe to go back out in the garden. There are many reasons I like these plants but scent is not one of them. A. konjac is an outdoor plant in USDA Zones 6-10. This could be the perfect gift for zombie movie lovers.

Deciding which side of the bulb is up can be a problem since the roots develop on the top of the corm/bulb and grow down, forming a net to keep the whole plant anchored. Stiff stems, stems that are exceptionally smooth, hold up its umbrella of foliage. They have deep and pale green mottling, like snake skin. Its common name is voodoo lily. 

I have a small garden so I don’t believe I will be collecting any more giant spathe and spadix blooming amorphophallus. I will, however, be putting in some more of the smaller growing selections. The foliage is so unusual and thrives in the shade. I might even find room for the new 9-foot tall Amorphophallus paeoniifolius 'Thailand Giant'.

Amorphophallus bulbifer, alternatively, is smaller. It will increase underground, forming clumps. Even before it is mature enough to send up what we laughingly call a blossom, you can propagate A. bulbifer by planting the brown nutlike seeds, called bulbils, which form in the center of the foliage whorl at the top of the plant. It will also send out new tubers underground, so propagation is really not much of an issue. It is more easily managed in a container than A. konjac and is less hardy. Pot it up and move it indoors during winter unless you live in USDA Zones 7b-10.

It is not quite so intensively scented when it blooms, or so I’m told. It also has the sleek mottled snake-like stems and is a great shade plant, not nearly as large as A. konjac. I love its cut-leaf foliage. (In case you worry about my sanity, I also love hosta foliage. But it is so common.) If you have an eye for the bizarre, a good place to start looking for selections of these plants is in the catalog of Plant Delights Nursery.

The flower spathe and spadix is shaped like a peace lily or anthurium bloom but that is where the similarity ends. Believe me, it is not as attractive as either of those blooms. Thankfully, it grows only one flower per tuber and only after several years in the ground.

You don’t need a strange personality or be an obsessive plant collector to grow this plant but it doesn’t hurt. I really like these plants. I especially like them in leaf and really do not encourage them to throw up (excuse the insinuation) their bizarre flower head.

To grow, all you have to do is give them a woodsy soil, keep them watered and fertilized, and don’t water or walk on them while they are dormant. I suspect my A. konjac blossom was stepped on just as it was breaking ground. It has a decided bend you can see in the photograph.

Amorphophallus is also very late to break ground in the spring. It is just about the last to erupt in the shade garden. Don’t give up on it.

The foliage of both Amorphophallus konjac and bulbifer is lush, even though it is a single spiral at the top of the snake stem. It thrives in shade, another tough spot for plants to shine. I hope that mine will be happy sending up its foliage but not happy enough to bloom. How many plants can make you happy by refusing to bloom? 

For an extensive list of amorphophallus and culture information, visit the International Aroid Society webpage.

Posted May 16, 2013

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