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Quirky and Odd, Voodoo Lily Adds Drama to your Garden

Amorphophallus konjac (Syn. A. rivieri) has a dozen exotic names, but there is no mistaking the beauty of the plant produced by these funny-looking corms, even if the fragrance of the bloom is more than a bit off-putting. What does the scientific name mean, you ask? Well, (blush) loosely translated, it means “funny, misshapen penis”. Hey, that’s their description, not mine!

A prized ingredient in Asian cuisine, Bade Achhe Lagte Hain Today Episode  this exotic plant is a native of Vietnam and other similar climates, and when Amorphophallus k. blooms, it produces a “stinky” flower stalk. With huge blooms three to four feet tall, it is still a mere dwarf compared to its cousin, Amorphophallus titanum (corpse flower) which can produce blooms up to 9 feet tall under ideal conditions.

This unconventional plant has been known Bade Achhe Lagte Hain Today Episode  to surprise its owner by blooming unexpectedly in dark winter storage, regardless of whether it has been left in its dry pot, or was removed and left without dirt altogether. Often, the first clue for the unsuspecting voodoo lily owner is a mysterious, foul odor in the house. Follow it with your nose-and a camera and you may have an opportunity to record the event.

Blooming in late winter (opposite its leaf season), the tall, spikey part coming out of the flower cowl (spathe) is the spadix (generally maroon in color with some blotching) and exudes droplets that smell like rotting meat. In its natural habitat, this would attract pollinating insects. (No, this plant is not carnivorous; it does not eat the insects. However, they may get stuck in the sticky nectar, and die in place). Most strains have marbled petioles (trunk/stem) of pinkish gray with olive blotching (similar to the look and feel of a snake, or some say, human skin). The odor will linger only for a day or two, and then goes away until the plant blooms again–sometimes years later.

Under good growing conditions the corm will significantly increase in size each year. The existing corm shrinks away as the leaf unfurls, and underneath, a new, larger corm forms as a replacement. Corms of this species can get to be the size of grapefruits or larger. It is from corms of this size that they are likely to send up an inflorescence (technically not a flower, but a group of flower buds). The inflorescence precedes the leaf in the spring, and for the plants that bloom (they do not bloom yearly), leaf emergence will be significantly delayed by a month or more. In Minnesota, start these indoors early and by late May they can be moved to the deck.

Plants should be kept in partial shade although they can tolerate full shade and even full sun in some circumstances. Pot cultivation (best for cooler climates) is as follows: Plant dry corms with “pink” growing tips in a soil-free, highly organic peat-based commercial medium just below the surface. 1″ to 2″ corms can be planted in 5″ to 6″ pots–on up to a 50 gallon palm pot for a 20 pound corm. Use constant dilute liquid feed (Peters 20-20-20) or the highest recommended rate of Osmocote 14-14-14 time release fertilizer. Leaf size appears to be dependent on last season’s growth–bigger corm, bigger leaf. (What appears to be a stalk, or trunk with many leaves, is actually a single leaf! ). Soil should be kept lightly moist to semi-dry.

It’s important for the corm to have a dry, dormant period in its life cycle. In the fall, let the pot dry out completely, and allow the leaf to die back naturally until it is completely withered. Do not cut it off, as it may be moving important sugars down into the corm. After that, store it in its pot for the winter, in a cool, dry, dark place somewhere between 42 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you get one that starts to flower (usually in February or March), water it well once, and let it do its thing. Otherwise, in the spring, take the dormant corms out of dry storage, remove them from the dirt and leave them in a warm room. This a good time to sort and separate small corms from the primary corm and ready those to be planted separately. Plant in late spring when you can see the pink eye/s emerging. In the Midwest, start your corms indoors and transfer them to your deck or patio after night temperatures stay above 55 degrees F.

I got my starter plants from an aunt in Chicago (who got a specimen from a friend more than 30 years ago). Yes, I’ve been known to part with a specimen on occasion (for a reasonable price) but you can buy corms from various sellers on the internet at anywhere from $10 to $75 depending on the size of the corm. It can also be started from seeds.

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