What is a Voodoo Lily?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

A voodoo lily is one of several different types of flowering plants that are noted for their remarkable colors and powerful stench. There are a few different plants that are often referred to as voodoo lilies, though the most common are typically those known as Typhonium venosum, Dracunculus vulgaris, or Amorphophallus bulbifer. These plants often grow in late winter or early spring, can range in color from shades of pink or light purple to powerfully dark violets, and typically emit a scent similar to decaying flesh. A voodoo lily of any of these types can be found all over the world and can be quite prominent in areas such as India, parts of Africa, and the US.

Typhonium venosum is one of the most common plants, especially in the US, often referred to as a voodoo lily. These plants grow from bulbs in long, brown stalks that typically reach to about 3 feet (about 0.9 meters) in height. They grow quite well in full shade and a number of large leaves, of mottled brown and purple color, often grow around the base of the stalk. The stalk ends in a purple or brown bloom that is often quite striking, and may range from violet and red to puce or brown.

This type of voodoo lily grows in partial or full shade and typically blooms in late winter or early spring. They are resilient in cold weather, though it should be noted that they are quite poisonous and may cause irritation if handled with bare hands. The Dracunculus vulgaris is another type of plant often referred to as a voodoo lily, and its appearance is quite similar to the Typhonium venosum. They can be found in the West and Pacific Northwest of the US and often display similarly vivid shades of red and purple.

Much like the other two types, the Amorphophallus bulbifer can often be referred to as a voodoo lily and demonstrates many of the traits common to the other plants. All three of them are also noted for the powerful stench they produce while blossoming. The odor is similar to decaying flesh or decomposing meat, and is used to attract flies that serve as a means of pollination for the plants.

A male voodoo lily will typically produce the horrible scent to attract flies, which swarm on the plants and receive pollen. The males will then close and the females will open, producing a similar stink, which attracts the flies that are then trapped temporarily to ensure the females receive the pollen. This works to prevent self pollination, and the voodoo lily will only produce the offensive odor for a short period of time. It is suggested, however, that these plants should not be kept by doors or windows that may be kept open in order to prevent the stink and flies from entering a home.

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