What Is That Smell?

What Is That Smell?

What Is That Smell?

Something special is going on this week at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle in Detroit.  If you smell it, you may not think it is special, but if you see the crowds it has attracted to the conservatory, you will.

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 corm it grows from, is used to make flour and jelly. It has no calories but is high in fiber so it is often used in diet foods. It has also been used for its various medicinal properties. The plant grows approx. 5-6 feet tall. It flowers in the late winter and then later will send up a single leaf which will grow all summer to replenish the corm. It then dies down in the fall and rests until it wakes up again next spring. I have read that it may not flower again for years, but do not know that for sure.

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 road kill on a hot summer day. Yuck! Why would a flower smell like a dead animal? Because it’s pollinators are flies.

The pollination must happen the same day the spathe opens. That is why 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. These do 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 which trap the flies in the plant so they can pollinate the plant as the flowers open at different times.

Belle Isle VooDoo Lily 048

This picture taken from above, shows the female flowers at the bottom of the spadix

This all sounds complicated and it really isn’t that important. It is an amazing flower and a big thank-you to the person that loaned it to the conservatory. It really has been a crowd pleaser.

Channel 2 News here in Detroit was at the conservatory today checking out the corpse flower and you can find that video here.

If you live in the Detroit area, you really should get down to Belle Isle this week to see it.

2 Responses to "What Is That Smell?"

  • I’ve grown this plant for years. I started with a small offset 6 or 7 years ago. Last year was the first time it flowered. I’m happy to report that my plant is about to flower again this year!

    A. konjac is easy to grow in most climates if you can put it outside in the summer in a sunny location. When the leaf dies in the fall, just bring it in and don’t water until you see signs of growth or the weather warms up.

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