Beautiful and Wretched Voodoo Lily


The voodoo lily’s (Amorphophallus bulbifer) reputation as a real stinker precedes it, and I have to admit that I have always been a bit hesitant about introducing something that smells badly to my home. Still, as the bulb drew closer to blooming, it was curiosity, and the worry that I would miss the event that made me bring it right up to my kitchen door.

On the morning that it opened, Davin woke up before me (as he does) and opened the kitchen window to let in a breeze. He says he was instantly whacked in the face by a terrible smell. Within an hour it had permeated the entire house!

The smell was like rotting flesh, but also something else that I can’t place. Sort of like rotted garlic: strong, pungent, fetid. Fortunately, the smell was gone by the afternoon.

amorphophallus-bulbifer2 amorphophallus-bulbifer4

The bulb was given to me in the spring, a gift from my friends Paul and Uli. If you’re looking to purchase your own, I believe they got it from Garden Import.


They say this is the easiest of the genus Amorphophallus to grow, and I certainly haven’t had any trouble so far. In the early spring, I planted the fist-sized bulb in a terra cotta pot that was a few inches wider than the bulb and about 10″ deep. I used potting soil with some sand and grit added for good drainage. I watered it very sparingly in the beginning, slowly increasing the water once it was outdoors. I placed the pot in a shady spot outdoors a few weeks after the last frost date had passed and since it is not hardy, will be bringing it in with my other houseplants in the fall.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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9 thoughts on “Beautiful and Wretched Voodoo Lily

  1. I love your choice of pot for that plant: it fits beautifully in color, texture, and personality. I love, also, that you braved the reputation and tried it for yourself…….what an experience!
    Thanks for your posts.

  2. Wow! It is quite unique looking, almost moldy. Very cool. Did you have a chance to head down to the Niagara Falls greenhouse (I think it was last spring) to see the corpse flower bloom? We missed the initial bloom so when we got there the stench was gone.

  3. Not sure why they would be considered hard to propagate? We have Voodoo lilies all over the place in our lower teatree garden. They come up every year and appear to be spreading through the area (like the arums). They are far enough away from the house to not worry about the stink but if you walk down the driveway it’s a real stinkfest and you have to hold your nose ;).

  4. Our Stapelia cactus houseplant also blooms with a repugnant odor. Its common name is “Starfish Flower Cactus”. We keep it inside all winter, then outside all summer for maximum sun, heat and rainfall. Each August, a bud develops on new growth, ballooning into an enormous thin-skinned pointy pod that splits into 5 petals. Its appearance mimics an intricately patterned starfish from an exotic locale. The smell makes people evacuate the area but draws the pollinators this plant evolved with ….. FLIES. They arrive in droves to make love to this flower. We inherited Stapelia from my husband’s late mother, a woman I never met. We have kept it going for over 26 years. I have seen it offered by Logee’s Greenhouses in New England, in case anyone is interested.

  5. We have a couple Amorphophallus, they are my husband’s ‘babies’ and I’m not sure which species we have. Once when ours bloomed in Florida I came home from work not anticipating a bloom and really thought our trash needed to head to the curb, but the closer I got to the front door made me realize it was the plant instead.

    I’ve also had the opportunity to see Mr. Stinky at Fairchild Gardens in Miami, but we were a few days early before it had bloomed.

  6. I grew an Amorphophallus one year – some species smaller than the one you have. It opened overnight and when I came downstairs to let the dogs out, the whole first floor smelled VILE. Not even like rotting flesh – something much more sharp and pungent, like you said. I got that thing outside in a hurry! Sadly, it didn’t live long after flowering, so I never got to have leaves. Too bad, because they’re really cool!

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