Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Voodoo Lily

A plant with large, wide, divided leaves, like a giant hand, has been appearing under tall grasses and thistles and bedstraw and any manner of other weeds in one corner of the arboretum. This corner is part of the "color garden" section and full of daffodils in the spring with flowering crab apples behind. I ignore it the rest of the year. Yesterday, I noticed that the plant had sprung up with giant wine red flowers... or something. I mashed down the grass and thistles and fought my way in to have a look. Here is what I found...

The stems are mottled and rather pretty... when not obscured by weeds.

 I looked up this strange plant on the internet and learned it is Dracunculus vulgaris... Voodoo Lily. Apparently, these plants can be dormant for years and suddenly appear. They can also come up in unexpected places from their bulblets being transported elsewhere (by rodents, maybe? the bulblets are poisonous). I certainly don't remember planting anything in that spot, much less a poisonous weirdness like this.

Sources say the flowers give off a dead rat smell for the first day or two which attracts insect pollinators. I must have missed the first couple days of flowering as I have smelled nothing .

The flower apparently only lasts a short time before going to seed. I will be curious as to what the seeds look like.

The leaves are huge and deeply divided.

It would be a handsome, if bizarre, plant in the right setting. I'm not sure buried in weeds in my arboretum is the right setting. I spent time today pulling all those thistles but this Voodoo plant will have to fight its own way through the grass. I'm not sure I want to give it room to spread, which it does in some gardens, I've read. In one account, a second plant appeared 15 feet away the second year. Many people writing about this Voodoo Lily on the Dave's Garden site said theirs, like mine, appeared out of nowhere. Scary.

Last year a Babaco Papaya magically materialized in my greenhouse. This year, a Voodoo Lily arrived in the arboretum. What next?


  1. I am pretty sure that I have two of these growing behind my house. It is one of the strangest things I have seen and I was unaware that it was a flower, until today. I don't think I will be keeping it in my yard. I do see in the pictures that you were touching the plant, and I have read on a few sites that the plant is poisonous, while other sites say it is fine. I don't know if you'll see this comment but if you do, do you recall having any skin irritation after touching the plant?

  2. Hi Angelica. No, I had no skin irritation. I usually wear gloves, though, when working out there. I was probably just tilting the stem to get a photo of the flower and leaf. Probably not enough contact to cause irritation. Now that I know it can cause an allergic reaction, I will always handle with gloves. Mine is not blooming yet but I have trompled down the grass around it so I can see those mottled stems from the path. It is just a curiosity as most of the year it is dormant and invisible.

  3. Good to know, thank you! I was going to go and cut mine down but after finally finding more information on them I think I might just keep it around. My dog stays away from it so I don't have to worry about him trying to eat it. Mine is in bloom and does smell right now, it's a strange plant but interesting at the same time. I don't know if mine was dormant or recently got into my yard some how as I don't recall it being there last year. I read online that they can be dormant for years at time.